Ville Valo , VV Neon Noir Tour, London O2 Forum, Kentish Town, 15th March 2023

Newer, younger faces appear amongst the familiar sea of black accompanied by their older, more seasoned HIM fans – the passing down of a precious heirloom.
Review by Selina Robinson, Photos by Daisy Robinson
 
All Photos Credit: Robinson Road Photography

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I remember being in the crowd on a cold wintry night in December, at London’s Roundhouse in 2017 with my twin sister. We were squeezed uncomfortably in a packed venue, against a black sea of fans heavily made up with black eye liner, proudly adorning bracelets, necklaces, t-shirts, beanies, scarfs, netted clothing and body art. One thing in common, however – we all adorned the ever infamous Heartagram; the band’s symbol and talisman representing decades of music that gave birth to the genre of ‘Love Metal’ a sound that is best described as ‘Depeche Mode meets Black Sabbath’. At that time, HIM (His Infernal Majesty) closed the set waving goodbye to us; their farewell tour over; which for us, seemed to be closing a chapter of an age of music we grew up with, our walls concentrated with Ville Valo posters, each song from every album memorised, etched onto the backdrop of our adolescence.

Fast forward to last night, at The 02 Forum Kentish Town, something feels oddly familiar. The line to enter the venue extends like a winding snake, fans decorated with black eye makeup, black t-shirts, black clothing with the infamous Heartagram. It is not an over exaggeration that the queues literally formed several hours for this event, braced in the cold, the rain and the wind (some fans there since 8am that same morning!) Newer, younger faces appear amongst the familiar sea of black accompanied by their older, more seasoned HIM fans – the passing down of a precious heirloom. The tension, the excitement, the memories were all back as if it was yesterday. Time had certainly had no impact to the loyalty, determination and allegiance that the UK fan base were prepared to show for Ville Valo’s first solo tour: Neon Noir. Fans were willing, eager to race to the front of the venue to get as close as possible, ready to relive the memories and ready to sing their hearts out. It might be a school night, but a sold out venue ensured this would be a very good night.

Kaelan Mikla

A band that requires watching alongside listening:

There was only one support act for this event, an Icelandic band called Kaelan Mikla who were by- and- large musically ‘found’ by The Cure’s legendary Robert Smith who asked if they could perform at various festivals he curated. The lights go down, and we find three dark images standing across the stage. Sólveig Matthildur, Laufey Soffía and Margrét Rósa, dressed all in black Victorian-esque clothing, evocative of a powerful coven. They chose to have limited lighting, limited stage aesthetics, with a selection of musical instruments alongside them which one might not expect of a ‘typical’ set up for a band; but this added the extra excitement that made the audience know this was going to be an act that was dark, atypical and, quite frankly something rather special.

Although it was clear that the majority of the audience was here for Ville Valo, Kaelan Mikla dominated the stage with such intent, such drama and artistic flair utilising a strong audiovisual performance that you couldn’t help but feel sucked into this dark wave synth. You would be trapped; entranced with either watching them, or moving along to the sounds. This is the type of band that needs to be watched alongside being heard – a part of the experience is watching them move across the stage, interact with each other, interact with the audience; a formidable presence as if conducting magic, calling upon a higher power.

Most of their songs were in Icelandic, but it did not interrupt or impact their performance, their sounds inclusive to any and every language – their dark wave magic taking over and certainly prepared the eager crowd for the good things to continue.

During the middle of Kaelan Mikla’s set I had word that the venue was already packed to the brim. As 21:00 edged closer you could feel the space around us start to close, any gaps were quickly filled with new bodies like water, more eager and ruthless fans determined to plug any gaps as close to the front as possible (beers held onto tightly!)

Ville Valo

Ville Valo still sends us in shivers:

Finally, the lights went lower, and immediately the venue was deafened by the sound of cheers and screams of delight. Ville Valo appears looking incredibly relaxed in his flat cap, a replacement of his previous style with a black beanie years before. With musicians behind him at the ready they kick the night off with the first song from his solo album Neon Noir; Echolocate Your Love. It is clear that audience members valued it just as much as older material – you could see fans chanting the words back, a sea of phones up and ready- the infamous Ville Valo was once again here, in the flesh. The pleasure was contagious.

The wonderful thing about this set list, is that it was designed to show off all strengths across the decades of music that has been associated with HIM. It is near 50% new material and, 50% older material to the absolute delight of fans. Ville Valo is so formidable that fans screams of delight compete against the thundering amps of sound. You can only imagine the pure joy of approximately 2300 fans singing in unison ‘The Funeral of Hearts’ – so memorable is this song that it barely starts and the fans goes wild. Everyone is rejoicing, singing, shouting, swaying, dancing; it is contagious whether you are at the front, the sides, right at the back or seated on the balcony above.

Neon Noir follows as the third song , the velvet tone of Valo’s voice resonating over the melodic clash of guitars into thundering drums – a sequence that is so familiar, comforting, yet new. It was truly an exciting evening full of reminiscence, love, friendship and a musical community all here for the same purpose. As the guitars for ‘Right Here In My Arms’ start into the fourth song, the crowd yet again deafen the venue – the movement of the crowds vibrate against the sounds. The catalogue of songs was picked perfectly, even ‘When Love and Death Embrace’ – a song from their very first album back in 1991 Greatest Love Songs Volume 666 – the crowd was compliant, ever faithful as they sang with lighters, phones, swaying to the melodic magic and oozing comfort of recollections. Older or younger, everyone here was mesmerised and in celebration of the decades of music granted to us.

This last stop of the UK tour was an exciting one to be a part of, and certainly demonstrated the strengths of Ville Valo who, it feels still has much more to offer…

SETLIST:

Intro: Zener Solitaire
Echolocate Your Love
Neon Noir
The Funeral of Hearts (HIM cover)
Right Here in My Arms (HIM cover)
Loveletting
Buried Alive by Love (HIM cover)
In Trenodia
Wings of a Butterfly (HIM cover)
Heartful of Ghosts
Join Me in Death (HIM cover)
The Foreverlost
The Kiss of Dawn (HIM cover)
Run Away From the Sun
When Love and Death Embrace (HIM cover)
Encore:
Soul on Fire (HIM cover)
Salute the Sanguine
Poison Girl (HIM cover)
Saturnine Saturnalia

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