VV – Bristol 02 Academy: 10/3/2322nd March 2023
The date is Friday, March 10th, 2023; another typical day to anyone else for sure, but for this reviewer, it’s something far more than that…this is special. This day has been five years in the making, and the excitement is practically incomparable with anything I can think of. Is your sports team scoring a last-minute winner in a cup final? Is your favorite Twitch streamer finding a shiny Pokemon? Taking a DNA test on Jeremy Kyle and finding out you are NOT the father? This tops the lot…this is the return of Ville Valo, live, on UK soil.
Yes, it’s been that long since HIM said farewell to the world, rounding off with their “Bang And Whimper” tour, as the black make-up stained the teary cheeks of thousands of fans up and down the country. Five LONG years. However, in January, Ville returned under the new moniker of VV, with his debut solo album “Neon Noir”; a stunning, melodic Goth-pop masterpiece, and he’s about to get the UK leg of this first tour underway. All About The Rock was at the 02 Academy Bristol to witness this historic moment…here’s what went down.
As you may recognize from previous live reviews, this writer is more than familiar with a night in Bristol, so as is tradition, our party arrives early for our hotel check-in, and we park up at The Hatchett Inn, right opposite the venue, to assess the situation. It’s an ideal bar as you can see the venue’s entrance, gauge the length of the queue and be able to make a solid plan for doors. Surprisingly, the queue was fairly minimal from early on. There were a couple of early birds, don’t get me wrong, but, as HIM fans, we are used to people literally camping out from 5 am just to get to the barrier to get close to Ville (I have stories, but we won’t go there in case of defamation issues, but some of you need to get a life). HIM were last here in, maybe 2003/2004, (It’s been a while either way) so you’d think there’d be more eagerness on display, but that wasn’t the case.
Closer to 7 pm, the queue was substantially larger ready for doors, and we anticipate checking out the support act for this tour; Iceland’s KÆLAN MIKLA . I’ve always said, please, check out your support bands, because all artists need a chance for growth and exposure, and these ladies are well worth your time. The trio (Consisting of lead vocalist Laufey Soffia, bassist Margret Rosa Doru-Harrysdottir, completed by Solveig Matthildur Kristjansdottir on synths) enter the stage like a coven of witches, with their flowing black dresses, atmospherics and occultist charm. Their performance is entirely in Icelandic, but while I lack the translation, I appreciate the delivery.
The first song of their already short set is more of an introductory piece, it’s their self-titled track and it acts as a sort of, the musical equivalent of an exposition dump from a movie. I have no idea what they are saying, but in terms of vibe, it’s like being stalked by a fermented shark in a hockey mask. Their first track proper “Stormurinn” gets things properly underway and hang-the-fuck-on…Solveig just whipped out a FLUTE? Where did THAT come from? The eerie woodwind element the flute brings emphasizes their folkish tendencies and works well alongside their classic post-punk sound. It’s got a beautifully dark Hammer Horror / Wicker Man feel to it and it delivers.
Other tracks like “Kalt” highlight the more rambunctious side of Laufey’s vocals, as the synth-heavy, bass-driven backdrop, amply allows her shrieks to truly pierce the audience over what could easily be a DEPECHE MODE or THE CURE track aesthetically. “Sólstöður” highlights the darkness this trio has to offer, as the vocal screeches, coupled with the subdued almost post-rock, is genuinely haunting. It’s practically ritualistic and it’s powerful as a result. Not for everyone, there is a time and a place for these ladies, but if you ARE interested in occultist thematics, please allow these to be the soundtrack to your dark dabbling.
Finally, then, the wait is over. After five frustrating years, Ville Valo (Accompanied by his new touring band) makes his UK debut as VV  as they grace the stage amidst smoke and pink lighting, under a glowing modified Heartagram, to the instrumental “Zener Solitaire”, before diving straight into “Echolocate Your Love”, and the crowd goes WILD. The band is absolutely on point, even though the synths are backing tracked (He’s opted for two guitars and a bassist instead of replacing Burton on keys), but they are honed to perfection, and Valo’s voice? Wow is all I can say. Having gone sober and quit smoking, the clarity in his vocal delivery is undeniable; he sounds as fit and fresh as he’s ever done, and to hear him belt out the authoritative “KILL THE LIE!” gives goosebumps.
The set as a whole, is a masterstroke, as he alternates the new VV material with choice cuts from the HIM back catalog, blending the old and the new, showcasing his unique longevity as a poetic lyricist and artist. Here we highlight our only nit-pick of the night; familiarity. Sure, regarding the new material, the title track “Neon Noir”, tunes like “The Foreverlost” and lockdown EP cuts like “Run Away From The Sun” garner great receptions, however, other new cuts like “In Trenodia” and “Heartful Of Ghosts”, while stunning tracks, get relatively non-existent responses to bar the typical post-track applause, and from our balcony spot, you can clearly see the crowd politely sitting through these awaiting something more lively.
The HIM tracks mind you, oh boy, everyone here tonight knows EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. WORD, and they make sure Ville knows it. The hard rock, anthemic pummelling of “Buried Alive By Love” goes down a storm, as does “Right Here In My Arms”. The lighter, Goth-pop melodies of “Wings Of A Butterfly” and “Join Me In Death” get impassioned sing-alongs, and the doom-laden depths of “Kiss Of Dawn” brings all of the riffs.
The sad thing? Despite a lengthy set of hits old and new, it’s over as soon as it began, and the time absolutely flew by. So wrapped up we were in our nostalgia and happiness, our night was already coming to an end, and to cap off a four-song encore, Ville introduces the band, thanked the support, thanked everyone in the sold-out 02 Academy, and sends us away to the gloomy, Sabbath-esque “Saturnine Saturnalia”, before he whisks away into the night, vanishing without a trace. As mysterious and enigmatic as the man is, the fact that not only is he back, but firing on all cylinders showcases simply how underappreciated he is as a name and a Bonafide star in our crazy world of rock and metal. A humble gentleman, he’ll play that down with a wry smile, but there are SO few like Ville Valo today, and it’s been a genuine fucking pleasure to see him on stage again. Thank you.
Echolocate Your Love
The Funeral of Hearts (HIM cover)
Right Here in My Arms (HIM cover)
Buried Alive by Love (HIM cover)
Wings of a Butterfly (HIM cover)
Heartful of Ghosts
Join Me in Death (HIM cover)
The Kiss of Dawn (HIM cover)
Run Away From the Sun
When Love and Death Embrace (HIM cover)
Soul on Fire (HIM cover)
Salute the Sanguine
Poison Girl (HIM cover)