Much more than a Slide Queen – Erja Lyytinen at the Harmonie

‘Guitar Player’ magazine’ recently listed her as “One of the 10 guitarists to keep the blues alive & well for the 21st century” as if she was a teenager just breaking through. It’s hard to believe when you see how fresh and inspired she still is onstage though that Erja Lyytinen has been a major player literally in the blues guitar scene for almost two decades. She has also moved on from those pure slide guitar blues roots as Sunday’s concert at the Harmonie proved. What hasn’t changed however is the Finnish lady’s drive and enthusiasm for playing, so the show was certainly one to savor, and for Erja, and her fine band, it was also clearly a pleasure to be back touring Central Europe after a year and a half.

This was certainly the closest I’ve been to a real live music atmosphere at a show since Thorbjorn Risagers appearance here on March 9th 2020. I’ve seen some enjoyable shows in between, but taking a seat alongside a hundred or less fellow listeners is not what Rock n Roll was made for. There were still limits of course with Covid still around which meant around 50% of capacity, but after so many shows with 50+ people, it really seemed crowded. Certainly, the applause when support band Ivy Gold took the stage was as loud as any full-house has mustered.

So who exactly are Ivy Gold? If you’re a rock fan you almost certainly have drummer Tal Bergman’s work in your collection. His CV includes Billy Idol, Chaka Khan, B.B. King, Dave Mason, Roger Daltry, Loreena McKennitt, Sammy Hagar, Simple Minds and Joe Bonamassa – not to mention Rod Stewart’s monster selling ‘Great American Songbook’ disc. Bergmann shares the band’s rhythm duties with a fellow American, bassist Kevin Moore, who has a stint with Jennifer Rush amongst his many live tours. Keyboards are the responsibility of Anders Olinder, whose own CV is pretty awesome too, including Courtney Pine, Peter Gabriel and Amy Winehouse. The main centre-points of the band are guitarist, producer, composer and music manager Sebastian Eder and singer Manou. The two started playing music together by chance, enjoyed it, asked the aforementioned top profile musicians to join and all said yes. Sounds insanely easy!

Ivy Gold

Looking at that musical CV, much as I hope to be proved wrong, it has to be doubted that this band is going to be around in its current formation for very long. When singers finally get touring again these look to be ‘go to’ guys for the live band. But let’s not think too much about the future, these are indeed very early days – in fact, they could not get earlier live music-wise – sultry singer Manou announced that this was actually their very first proper concert as a band. So how did they fare? With so much experience between them, there was never a danger of the band losing their way at any time. I felt though that there was always a feeling of caution and nervousness. Ivy Gold rock in a 70’s style reminiscent of some of those names mentioned earlier – Sammy Hagar with Deep Purple nods and a smattering of Dio/Gillan at their strutting best.

Manou – front lady from Ivy Gold has a touch of Ronnie James Dio in her style

All in all, this was neither a bad nor a great concert by Ivy Gold. The nervousness showed at times, with guitar solos seeming harnessed in by song structure and a dynamic that neither whispered nor soared, but floated somewhere in between for long periods. The hopes of a brief change in tempo when Manou announced a love song were somewhat dashed with ‘Shine On’ which suggested they have a great stadium song rather than the classic ‘slow song’ that sets every top hard rock band apart (think ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘UFO’s ‘Love to love You’ or Thin Lizzy’s ‘Still in love with you’). All that said, I’m being pretty harsh on a band that only have ten songs and even less live shows under their belts. They have an A-class rhythm section for sure, a top keyboard player, a strong vocalist and a guitarist who sounded like he will be worth hearing when the songs develop and take on their own lives as they so often do on the road. The debut CD ‘Six Dusty winds’ is a solid first release. There will be a lot to enjoy in the rock music future when Ivy Gold truly get ‘played in’ as a band on the live circuit.

The confidence and ease that playing tours together creates was perfectly illustrated by Erja Lyytinen‘s band. The sense that each one of them could take a solo with ease and knew exactly when to play upfront and when to hold back. The ideal band for Finland’s designated ‘Queen of the slide guitar’. That said, I really think this title belittles Lyytinen’s talents. I’ve been listening to Erja live and on record for a few years now and she has developed into an all-round live musician and live entertainer. Her vocal’s in particular are so powerful now that even if she didn’t strap on one of her colourful Stratocaster-style guitars I would go to her shows. Except perhaps – I do miss the old, simple Blues numbers that she did so well before like ‘Dust my Broom’ and a particular live favourite of mine ‘Soul of a Man’. I miss ‘Steamy Windows’ too. I guess that she has so much top material of her own now that there is no room for so many covers in the set anymore. Pity.

Erja Lyytinen’s sound in 2021 is a sophisticated one. True, she kicks off still with a Rock n Roller in ‘Don’t let a Good Woman Down’ and ‘Wedding Day’ Still rocks beautifully, almost making you miss its excellently biting lyrics (another facet of Erja’s music that has blossomed particularly over the last five years is her songwriting). There is the funky rock of ‘Snake in the Grass’ too. Certainly, lots to enjoy musically and I guess the burgeoning merchandise stall with men’s ‘EL’ underpants and three different Erja Lyytinen brand tea blends in addition to the books, CD’s and Tshirts is a sign that it’s increasingly hard to make a living from music alone in these Spotify days.

Clearly, Erja Lyytinen in 2021 knows how to, and makes the effort to, put on a show. She doesn’t need to rely on keeping the audience’s attention through her eye-catching flesh coloured body costume. Lyytinen is certainly not one of those musicians who sings, plays and says only two words all show – ‘good night’. She interacts easily with her audience and has a superb band behind her in Iiro Laitinen (drums), Mika Aukio (keys) and bassman Tatu Back. There is a brash confidence in their playing and a dynamic that comes from playing off of each other. The feeling that Erja could suddenly throw anything at them musically and they would not blink an eye before responding perfectly. I detected a bit of ‘Smoke on the Water’ slipped in along the way – not to mention ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’. If you want confidence, then look no further than getting an entire audience to sing along in Finnish “Hummani hei, hummani hei, huputiti hummani hei!” on ‘Juokse sinä humma’ (in case you wondered it’s something about riding a pony…)

Maybe even add visionary prophetess to her list of skills? ‘Another World’ was written in 2019 and tells of life on a planet that threatens to unravel. Just two years down the line and “If we could find another planet. Together we could travel high. The only thing that really matters, is that we survive”. It all seems to perfectly describe the present COP26/Covid 19 ravaged times we are living in right now. Luckily there’s that warm smile from the lady onstage to take the chill out of reality. Music is the healer once again.

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