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  • Writer's pictureGavin Griffiths

VV: Echolocating London Town

On Friday, March 10th 2023, the UK was subject to something truly special. Better than International Bagpipe Day (Men in skirts, blowing, squeezing and fiddling with big bulbous sacks, making noises that’ll bring a tear to your ass somehow deserve recognition) ...and EVEN BETTER, than the International Day Of Awesomeness, which celebrates everything awesome about ...everything. This ...was the return of Ville Valo.

The former HIM front man made his full solo debut in January with the stunningly solemn album “Neon Noir”, going by the new moniker of VV, and March 10th saw him perform his first show on UK soil since HIM’s 2017 farewell, at Bristol’s O2 Academy. This reviewer was there, and you can guarantee that show was special. (Check out THAT review over at All About The Rock here). However, not content with covering just one this reviewer covered four of the five UK dates, skipping Glasgow purely to avoid those aforementioned bagpipes. On Wednesday, March 15th Valo rounded off his UK run with another sold-out show, at London’s Kentish Town Forum; here’s what went down in the capital.

To start with, I’d like to thank the London Underground for their cooperation, as the tube strike was a nice touch after the 4hr drive from Manchester. We found ourselves parking up underneath some Asda store in Hounslow, then booking an Uber to take us 13.8 miles into Camden, which took a further fucking HOUR because drivers in London are all seemingly born without patience, or spatial awareness. The cherry on top of that journey was the Uber driver was listening to the government budget from Parliament on the radio, and I was THIS close to becoming a suicide statistic. We did get to see a lovely giraffe mind, that was nice. The fun, however, doesn’t stop there.

Allow me if I may, to get this off my chest before we get to the music. Our accommodation for the night was The Pack & Carriage Hotel, in Camden, which on face value, through the hotel booking app that I used, looked like a very sleek, smart, dark, Gothic designed hotel, which I thought was perfect for our stay. To say I feel catfished, was a gross understatement. The exterior alone looked like it should be boarded up, the seats in the bar area were visibly distressed, crisps all over the floor, damp musky smells in the carpeted corridor, visible damage to room furniture and best of all, I could have missed the gig because I got locked in the bathroom! The sliding door had come off its runner, and got jammed, trapping me in the toilet. Luckily, I was sharing the room, and James Oakley rescued me. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry, it was like Fawlty Towers, but the towers were in New York and the fault was the plane. Enough of that though, how was the show?

The queue for tonight, despite the wet weather was genuinely impressive, as the sold-out Forum capacity of 2,300 coiled their way around several streets, twists and turns, but thanks to O2 Priority being a thing, we skip ahead, and my velvet jacket isn’t ruined by rain. We bump into a few people, get some drinks and await the tour support, KÆLAN MIKLA to make their presence felt. Now, of all the shows I’ve watched this tour so far, the Kentish Town Forum stage set-up suits the Icelandic trio the best without question, as the almost theatre environment of the layout and presentation of the venue, allows the ladies to come across as the Wayward Sisters of Macbeth with their occultist visuals.

They blend a sense of 80’s post-punk with modern retro synths, for a truly dark, atmospheric delivery, while vocalist Laufey Soffia alternates between softer, calming notes, and piercing shrieks. Tracks like “Andvaka” blend the likes of THE CURE and BJORK, with SIOUXIE & THE BANSHEES and it’s a captivating experience. “Hvitir Sandar” is a slow burner of a post-rock piece that truly relaxes the crowd before our headliner, and cuts like "Stormurinn" highlight their folkish tendencies, and it’s very “Midsommar”. If they could get away with it, they’d probably sacrifice something, but, you know, health and safety etc. We can’t even go for a smoke until 9pm! (Honestly, London venues facilities are shit, pointing at Kentish Town Forum and Shepherd’s Bush Empire). All in all, the trio are an acquired taste but are certainly worth giving the time of night. I’d say day but this sort of thing is better in the dark.

Eventually then, just past 9pm, we get to witness one final hurrah for this UK run of VV shows; we know the setlist, we know what to expect and we are mentally prepared for the incoming set of singalong bangers, but you can never be emotionally prepared for a show like this.

From the minute Ville Valo casually enters the stage waving, and they tear into “Echolocate Your Love”, they have this London crowd eating out of the palm of their hands, and it doesn't let up. Fresh cuts like lead single “Loveletting” and title-track “Neon Noir” get respectfully harmonious sing-alongs, but it’s the HIM tracks intertwined through the setlist that bust the most lungs. With a back catalogue so strong, there’s only so many they could pick for the set, and we get the typical hits like “Buried Alive By Love” and “Wings Of A Butterfly”, which, always garner great crowd response, but we’d love some deep cuts now and again. The money I’d pay to hear “Circle Of Fear” live, I swear...

Ville and the band storm through the set, unwavering, with zero true crowd interaction, until the four-song encore, where after a blistering rendition of “Soul On Fire”, and the beautiful Gothic singalong of “Poison Girl”, leads us to Ville introducing the band, before we once again close on the doom inspired “Saturnine Saturnalia”. Ville makes his exit, Daniel. P. Carter says hello, security can’t get people away from the barrier as they try to claim guitar picks and strewn bra’s, last minute merch is purchased and while the band hide in the tour bus, we wander in the rain, looking for a drinking establishment willing to accept a group of the dampest, happiest Goth’s you’ll ever meet.

People ask, why go to four shows on the same tour, knowing that you are going to hear the same set of songs every night? Well for a start, every single song is a fucking gem, rarely has an artist been as consistent as Ville Valo when it comes to his poetically dark, well-read level of literature-based lyricism, and had a penchant for blending sombre storytelling and absolute bangers musically. The man ages like a fine wine, and I would much rather have Champagne, than consume the Lambrini level of generic bands that flood today’s scene. Ville Valo is, artistically, of a dying breed, and I feel genuinely privileged to have gotten to see him do his thing on this tour. Five years has been a long time, but Heartagram’s, however modified, are beating strong once again, violated in the most sensual way, welcome back Ville ...roll on Download.

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