NETTA SKOG – On the Rocks, Helsinki, 18.02.2017

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Netta Skog is no new name to the music scene, particularly in Finland. This champion accordionist made a name for herself as the replacement for Lisko in Turisas, but has since moved on to replace Emmi Silvennoinen in Ensiferum. I’ve personally never known her to perform solo shows, at least since she became a popular metal musician, so when she lined up a solo performance at On the Rocks on February 18th, 2017, I figured I should go see what sort of show she’d put on by herself… except she wasn’t completely alone! A few short hours before the show, she announced that she’d have a special guest on stage with her. You may have heard of him – Children of Bodom’s own Alexi Laiho.

[Due to a misunderstanding of the digital accordion’s capabilities, this review has been updated as of 24.02.2017]

 

With the club doors opening at 22:00, I thought it would be wise to show up a bit beforehand – you never know what kind of a crowd this sort of show would bring in. The venue was clearly kicking people out of the basement before they were letting show-goers in, so the line in the upstairs of the bar got a little bit insane around 22:00. With Laiho and Skog still doing some final touches on the sound, I was surprised that fewer people were early to the venue to stalk them. I mean, they both have their fair share of raving fans.

There was a steady trickle of people inside nevertheless, and from all walks of life. There were clear heavy fans donning their band shirts, with a lot of Ensiferum visible, as well as people that I assumed knew her for her work as a competitor. And so I found myself a seat wondering what sort of music the former-Turisas/present-Ensiferum/2015 World Championship victor would play at a solo show.

 

They were late getting started, with the showtime listed as 22:30, but the bar music didn’t fade out until 22:45, and that’s even after the original start time of 22:00 was announced to be pushed back. The lights grew dark and the fog machines started up, while Two Steps from Hell’s “Victory” played – great song! Skog took the stage, unfortunately seated, thus making it hard to see her, and started things off with “Poison” by Alice Cooper. She didn’t sing, rather choosing to let the accordion do the work for her, and at this point I have to make some changes to what I had originally written: I had originally thought that Skog was playing to a backing track, but after the fact, she informed me that these ‘backing tracks’ were all, in fact, played by her on the accordion. I will maintain that the sound was slightly unbalanced – what I would consider to be the back-up music (the looped guitars and drums) was overpowering the main riffs to a certain extent – I’m not sure if that relates simply to the mechanics of the accordion, or if it was the venue’s sound. However, having learned this, I am nothing short of amazed at the level of detail and intricacy she has put into these arrangements! This also explains how what I thought was the backing track stopped instantly in some songs at the same time she stopped, so, lesson learned, and I am truly humbled and wildly impressed.

She greeted the crowd enthusiastically, expressing how excited she was about this show. She then discussed playing Nightwish and asked the crowd to sing along with the next medley, starting with “I Want My Tears Back.” That was really interesting, as the accordion did a great job of the violin parts, sounding rather similar, but also gave it a bit of a sea shanty effect. However, having promised a “potpourri” of Nightwish, she transitioned this into “Nemo.” This switched again into something from Endless Forms Most Beautiful, I think, before going back to “I Want My Tears Back” briefly before finishing up. The crowd began shouting requests and she teased them a while before saying “no way” and that she had her own set, offering some Scorpions instead.

I didn’t recognize the next track, but Skog mentioned Bullet for My Valentine – turns out it was “Betrayal”, which is not one of their songs that I’m intimately familiar with. It sounded really cool on the accordion, and wickedly heavy before “Rock You like a Hurricane”, which was a ton of fun, particularly when she rocked the solo and got all the drunks clapping and singing along. I say drunks, incidentally, because the sober Finns hadn’t come out of their shells yet. She then asked who had seen her before, with Turisas, Mokoma, Turmion Kätilöt, and Children of Bodom, and thanked everyone for the support. She also gave a shout-out in English to the foreigners in the crowd as well, which was lovely.

Skog then started up a rather “well known” song, none other than Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”… and sang, only backing herself up a touch with the accordion, apart from the solo; the girl has a lovely voice, in case you weren’t aware. It’s a shame some of the older rocker drunks wrote the show off at this point, grumpily muttering that they should go somewhere else and listen to Iron Maiden – ironic, but I’ll get to that later.

She then asked the crowd if everyone was from Helsinki, and one woman shouted that she was from Rovaniemi, which Skog replied was incredibly cool. The crowd clearly clued into her next song faster than I did, as they started screaming before I figured out that she was playing a Children of Bodom medley. Interesting song choices though, and I’ve never seen anyone do a keyboard slide on an accordion before, so that was new for me. She then introduced her beloved friend, Alexi Laiho.

Laiho took his seat next to Skog and proved that there is good reason for his popularity, as he really revved the crowd up, shredding away like it was nothing to a song I didn’t know, but turned out to be Bodom’s “Every Time I Die” and “In Your Face.” Skog herself couldn’t help but rock out as he was going at it. The next track, “Lake Bodom”, was a personal favorite, as the mixing accordion and electric guitar traded off and sounded really cool together, even going full-on humppa for a while.

Laiho left the stage, and someone requested “Poison”, to which she teased the perpetrator mercilessly. She then suggested that the next songs would be by Amorphis, possibly newer material. That was another highlight, as it’s no secret that Under the Red Cloud won me over to Amorphis fandom. She then threw the crowd a curveball by starting up “The Trooper” by Iron Maiden, allowing the crowd to sing some of the vocals, and not even trying to hide her grin at the “ohh-oh” parts. It was a short rendition, but clearly the crowd was thrilled about it. Shame those cranky drunks had given up so soon, no? That’s what music snobbery will get you, it seems.

She finally announced the last song of the set, discussing a competition that she won some years ago, with Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Far Beyond the Sun.” It’s not a song I’m familiar with, but it got the crowd chanting and their fists in the air. I have to say, the neoclassical, wanky guitar music worked really nicely on the accordion.

The crowd called her back to the stage after she said her thanks, and she called her friend Alexi back as well. She then graced us with a little riff from her favorite accordion song, “Säkkijärven polkka”, as Laiho plugged in an acoustic guitar. She announced that the last song of the night would be “Hurts” by Johnny Cash (actually Nine Inch Nails, but they had been inspired by the Johnny Cash version when deciding to perform it) and profusely thanked the crowd once again. This was the only other song that she sang along with, other than “Wicked Game.” It was a very nice rendition, and one of the more stand-out of the night as it didn’t have that extra arrangement on the accordion, but rather, stuck to the traditional riffs that you would expect to hear from such an instrument. It was maybe not the most upbeat note to end the night on, but that’s hardly a fault, as it was a fun show as a whole.

 

So, this was a very interesting night, and reminded me why it’s rarely a bad idea to just go out and watch something new from time to time – particularly when taking on a new instrument that I apparently know absolutely nothing about. The show was really fun and Skog is a great showman, interacting with the crowd and getting a little cheeky when necessary. It reminded me a bit of Ilja Jalkanen’s troubadour shows. Plus she clearly had fun, bouncing around on her stool and smiling the whole time. I will say though that visually, it was less fun to see a show of two people sitting down than it could have been if they had stood. It might have been a little more compelling if she had owned the stage the way she owned the songs and the crowd. However, this s due to the footpedal she uses, so it makes sense that the music will be better if she its, and of course, that is the main point, right? And I must credit her for picking songs that were sure to please her audience. If you’ve lived in Finland and spent any time in the music community, you’ll understand what I mean. All she missed was “Tallulah” by Sonata Arctica. Overall though, apart from some issues with sound balance, I had a good time and I’d certainly recommend checking her out if you’re a fan of accordions and/or covers and/or Netta Skog!

Setlist (incomplete):
Intro: Victory (Two Steps from Hell)
1. Poison (Alice Cooper)
2. Nightwish medley (I Want My Tears Back, Nemo, Elán)
3. Betrayal (Bullet for My Valentine)
4. Rock You Like a Hurricane (Scorpions)
5. Wicked Game (Chris Isaak)
6. Children of Bodom medley (Hate Me, Downfall)
7. Every Time I Die, In Your Face (Children of Bodom; ft. Alexi Laiho)
8. Lake Bodom (Children of Bodom; ft. Alexi Laiho)
9. Amorphis medley (Tree of Ages, You I Need, House of Sleep)
10. The Trooper (Iron Maiden)
11. Far Beyond the Sun (Yngwie Malmsteen)

Encore:
12. Säkkijärven polkka (snippet)
13. Hurt (Nine Inch Nails; ft. Alexi Laiho)

Photos: Feng Deng

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