Cult of Luna @ Lutakko, Jyvaskyla, 27/02/10
Somewhere Along the Highway
As I turn from the bar with my Karhu III beer in mitt, I finally get a chance to breathe after the poorly executed, frantic dash up from Helsinki. I’m waiting for Cult of Luna to board the stage, in a gritty club, 5 hours bus ride north of Helsinki, in a city ringed by frozen lakes and dense pine forests. You know, the usual Saturday night.
A few hours earlier, the title of Cult of Luna album, Somewhere along the Highway, had come to mind. A bus unexpectedly dumped me in a small town somewhere a couple of hundred kilometres out of Helsinki, and a long way from the Cult of Luna gig in Jyvaskyla. Sure it looked pretty cool to be on a highway surrounded by snow and black pine trees. But where the feck am I? And I how do I get to Jyvaskyla from here?
I found the town’s bus station and I ordered a beer while I consulted my guide book and my bus tickets to work out how I get out of here. The beer that they presented me with was a Fosters. That can’t be a good omen. Is this how it’s going to end… somewhere along the highway? Will the news reports back home say “the Australian national was last seen drinking a Fosters ”? How embarrassing. Fortunately the Finns speak English better than I do, and so I found myself in Jyvaskyla just before nightfall.
The Lutakko club is right on the bank of a large frozen lake, so dense with snow cover that people were skiing on it the following Sunday morning. A ring of the lake had been ploughed clear of snow so the locals could skate too. I was just trying to keep upright on the banks.
Stepping into the venue, it’s a cool gritty bar that you would expect to find just off a university campus. Jyvaskyla is a university town, and the crowd looked like it consisted mainly of students. I’m not sure what the liquor laws are in Finland, but the entrance to the bar was fenced off from the floor in front of the stage. This is the only area in which you are allowed to drink. Everyone had to show ID to get into the bar area… everyone that is except for me. Come on, man. You can’t even see my grey receding hairline. I’ve still got my beanie on.
Cult of Luna didn’t board the stage until 11:30pm. I got there at 8pm. So that’s a few more 5 Euro beers than are ideal for the budget of a corporate wh0re between tricks.
The club has an unusual set up. The bar area forms an L shape around the floor, with the biggest section of the bar actually behind the stage. The bar appears to have a larger capacity than the actual performance space, but only from a small section of the bar can you see the stage. Because of the size of the bar, I’m sure the capacity of the place is quite decent. Yet there is no way all those people can fit on the floor in front of the stage. When the band starts emerging this leads to as many people as possible trying to squeeze onto the floor and the remainder hanging over the bar barriers, trying to obtain a viewing position.
The Tavastia club in Helsinki was a purpose built venue, with a solid sound set up. Lutakko in Jyvaskyla is one of these odd shaped clubs like the Underworld in London or Fowlers in Adelaide. Sure the space isn’t purpose designed for acoustics, but that packed club atmosphere is worth more than perfect sound.
Cult of Luna played the same set that night in Jyvaskyla as they did previous night in Helsinki. With the intimacy of the smaller club, I was even more absorbed in the music than last night. From the sparse opening of Dark City, Dead Man to the frenetic close of Ghost Trail, I was oblivious to almost anything but the sound.
A cult of Luna set is always a night of ebb and flowing dynamics, and circular themes, that build and retreat like in Finland. The band march in Owlwood, and they stomp in Eternal Kingdom. At some stages a single guitar strikes the odd note, minutes later all 7 members are filling the room with the same theme that the sole guitar started.
For most of the set I’m so immersed in the sound that visually I’m not taking anything in. Even though I’m looking directly at the stage, I might as well have my eyes shut. The only thing that took me out for a moment was when a spied Klas Rydberg hiding behind the stacks. The poor dude delivers back-up vocals to Persson’s roar for the first couple of tracks, well hidden by amps and equipment. I couldn’t but help think of the keyboardists being hid off stage by the rock bands of the eighties. But Rydberg springs to centre stage towards the close of the third track, Dim. His tortured vocals soar out Eternal Kingdom in front of the army of swaying guitarists.
The focus of the set is on their louder tracks with a rockier edge. This is what has distinguished Cult of Luna from the post metal pack in the last few years. There is a sense of rocking groove throughout their set that some of their more noodly contemporaries lack. The set is dominated by tracks off Eternal Kingdom and Somewhere along the Highway, but they still reach quite deep with a track each off Salvation and the Beyond.
As per last night in Helsinki, Cult of Luna close with the live monster of Ghost Trail. That repeated guitar lead and the subsequent cutting, harsh vocal crush me every time.
I saw Cult of Luna 2 nights in a row in Finland. I could see the same set over and over again and I think I’d still be as absorbed each time. Helsinki and Jyvaskyla are a long way from Australia in more ways than just kilometres. To see such gripping performances in a place so different from my home is an experience that I will never forget.