Erja Lyytinen is on the up escalator. She done her musical schooling on the West Coast, paid her dues on the blues circuit, established herself as virtuoso player, grown into her role as a songwriter and has been smart enough to work with experienced producers to give her recording output sound more depth.
Now she’s fronting a vibrant young road tested outfit and the combination of her own strong self penned material and her dynamic performance makes a big impact on the opening date of her latest UK tour.
Dressed as if ready to enter a bullring, she glides unannounced on to the stage to check her pedals, leads and tunings before announcing her presence with an opening crescendo that suggests her band is here to rock.
And rock is indeed what Erja Lyytinen Band does, in a high octane show full of tonal colours, evolving tempos and plenty of space to both improvise and interact with the crowd.
And if Erja oozes confidence, her band positively bristles on a set full of energy and real swagger.
If there’s a slight chink her armour, it’s her phrasing which is dutiful rather than intuitive, but such is the strength of her melodies and the intensity of her solos that we are carried along in the slipstream.
They open with ‘Lovers Novels’ the kind of slide-led piece that goes along way to explaining her successful crossover style. It’s rocks hard, is powered by a funky bass and resolves itself with a catchy refrain, before she adds lashing of enveloping slide.
And having shared the band’s busy work schedule with the crowd, we’re suddenly into the early set highlight of ‘Black Ocean’. Already a standout track on her current ‘Stolen Hearts’ album, it’s transformed from a funky riff-led intro into a prog-rock tour de force on which she revels on guitar.
The following ‘Everything’s Fine’ does well to maintain the intensity, opening as a booming shuffle with pronounced echo on her guitar. She adds some cool harmonics, shares harmony vocals with bass player Tatu Back, and unexpectedly segues into a cover of ‘Summertime’ ,which the crowd is slow to pick up on until she sings some of the lyrics.
It turns out to be a brief diversion from her ascending spacey guitar work, on a great example of the way she’s able to build up a solo as meaningful part of a song without losing the essential thread.
Kudos to her rhythm section and drummer Iiro Laitinen in particular, whose lightness of touch delicately underpins her jangling guitar.
The current single ‘Another World’ brings an ethereal feel before building up some real momentum. And there’s some further sumptuous toned soloing on a blues with an accapella finish, and a shift to the more commercial possibilities of the singalong title track of the ‘Stolen Hearts’ album.
Erja seems keen to show us she’s not completely done with trad blues on a reverential cover of ‘Walking Blues’. It almost feels like a step back in the context of tonight’s set, though her slide carries the day.
She redresses the balance with an extended ‘Rocking Chair’, which finds room for a call and response section and an angular mangled shred with a distorted tone, on a great example of just how versatile her band is when it comes to stretching out.
Tonight’s Borderline show exemplifies her inherent ability as a musician, songwriter, band leader and performer. The band sparkles, the riffs lodge deep in the mind, the melodies linger and her sheer exuberance press gangs the crowd into sharing the joy of playing contemporary blues-rock.
Review Pete Feenstra
Photos by Al Stuart
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