HIM @ The Hi-Fi, Melbourne (25/02/10)

Check out photos of HIM here

There are few objects of desire in rock today that rival Ville Valo. His raw ability to turn otherwise gracious and genteel young ladies into a tumbling mass of fawning, squealing sycophants makes him the envy of many a man.

Exactly how he manages to ravish any woman who possesses a penchant for guitars is beyond me. The dwarfish, gangling Fin is hardly your typical pinup. His appearance has ranged from a greasy makeup-mishap from a vampire film set, to his more recent extra-from-a-Dickens-dramatisation look. His manner, too, is atypical – mild and surprisingly unrockstar-ish, it would seem.

As he strolled on stage to lead the band’s first appearance in Melbourne for two years, one could have reasonably expected some boisterous, ego-fuelled antics to match the crowd’s response; a deafening squelch of several hundred female lungs. But alas, there was but not a word of welcome from the hero of the night, and hence began an evening of what can only be described as downright worship of this sex idol and his raggedy-looking cohorts.

Raggedy their playing was not, however. HIM didn’t miss the mark here – battling an impenetrably poor mix from the engineers, who themselves weren’t helped by a difficult acoustic environment, the band churned out their endless supply of delightful instrumental hooks and gothy soundscapes.

Mikko Lindstrí¶m (guitars) is by far the standout player in this band. Often hamstrung by the duties of recreating HIM’s solidly produced, hook-heavy sound, when he takes a rare solo we get a whiff of those underlying chops. Drowning in wah’, the Satriani and Vai influence was clear as he embarked on some well executed scalic and broken chord runs. His effects and tone were as good as in the studio, making his little pinch-harmonic call-and-responses with Valo ever the more satisfying.

The setlist, as expected, contained a good deal of songs from HIM’s new album, Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice, in addition to a lot of older material (tracks from Greatest Love Songs Vol 666, Razorblade Romance, Love Metal, Dark Light and Venus Dawn were all covered).

The new material has a real early-2000s alterna-metal feel (as one critic suggested, think later-period Dream Theater and Queensrí¿che). It gets heavy at times, like the ballsy opening riff on Like St Valentine, but no matter the mood, you’re never far from an exuberant groove. Which, I promise, you won’t be able to stand still after hearing. Even a Melbourne crowd, famous for being statuesque, couldn’t resist bursting into action throughout the night.

Unfortunately, the band weren’t as eager to jump about. Ville Valo barely lifted roots from in front of his mic’ stand, while about the most we got from Lindstrí¶m was some aimless wandering in a small circle. A small stage didn’t help, but the lack of stage theatrics was still rather evident.

One would expect a band whose fans dress up like they’re about to stage a penny dreadful recreation might create an elaborate stage show to match. The answer is an overwhelming no – there was little to admire about the lighting or set design.

But I suspect that’s just the way the band want it. There’s something about Ville Valo’s attitude that you can’t help but admire. I can’t think of many other front men who are so nonchalant. At one stage he announced he was leaving us all to use the bathroom – meanwhile the band entertained with an instrumental trip hop groove – and towards the end of the show casually wandered off stage with the rest of the band for an impromptu break.

Ville Valo is the essence of cool. He’s able to get away with almost anything, yet rarely fails to deliver what his adoring and utterly fanatical fans expect.

The commitment of his fans goes far beyond the widespread heartagram tattoos spread all over. One girl declared that she’d throw herself in front of a bus to spend an evening with Valo and forever be a forgettable part of his life’s memory. But yet nobody could say exactly what it is that makes him so attractive.

Valo is forever the centre of attention while onstage. He mightn’t move about, but he doesn’t need to. His trademark baritone crooning, which at times soars much higher than you’d expect, conveys the lyrics’ lovesick emotion brilliantly. At times Valo lacked power and was a little shaky vocally, but he was obviously struggling with a poor monitor mix and problems with his earplugs. Still, there wasn’t a pair of female eyes who weren’t locked in Valo all evening, perhaps with just a little drool dropping to the floor. And there weren’t many blokes who weren’t receiving confirmation of their ‘mancrush’.

Ville Valo is genuine. In this plastic, manufactured world of reality stars and engineered rock boy-heroes, Valo just gets out there and kicks it, and kicks it convincingly.

He’s real, and totally believable. And boy, does he have some believers. I sure am one of them.

Something to say?