Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and wonderful 2014.  The Finns says "Hyvää uutta voutta"!  New Year's Eve is a bit different from Christmas in Finland.  Seems that Christmas is a very peaceful family Holiday where no one appears to run around to multiple gathering, but stays local with the family. I was told that on New Year's Eve in Finland, from the time the sun goes down till midnight, fireworks become legal.  Since moving to Finland we have practiced a family tradition where we light off fireworks from our front yard. There are no legal problems doing this and police do not interfere on this night.  We light actual rockets, streamers and ground sparklers.  The kids are always excited for this and it reminds me of my childhood back in the States when we had fireworks on the 4th of July celebration.  However, I think in most places in the States, the use of fireworks is not always permitted, maybe just restricted to certain areas and types of fireworks.  It is interesting how many families in the small neighborhoods in Finland take part in the New Year's fireworks.  I think the cacophony from the fireworks last year began around 8pm and didn't let up till past midnight in our little neighborhood in Espoo.  This seems to be the general theme around the country.

There is still a distinct lack of snow on the ground here in Southern Finland and also no signs of the first major snow storm.  Most people have expected the snow to fall by this time of year; however it just hasn't been cold enough. The last week or so we have had about 5C (41F).  The snow is actually welcomed this time of year since it brightens up things nicely in the dark and allows for snow activities.  The days are still very short now and will be until early February when it starts to get noticeably lighter with each day.  The sun rises about 9:15am now and sets at 3:22pm.  However short and dark the days might be at this moment, staying positive and knowing that it will eventually change helps one get through the dark, dog days of winter in Finland.

As another year races by I have much to be thankful for and reflect on. 2013 was another busy year filled with fun, work, adventure, traveling and learning.  Our family hasn't let go of the travel bug as we plan on visiting several more countries in Europe this coming year, 2014. Whether you live in Finland, The United States or any other place in the world, I appreciate the fact that you stopped by my blog and I hope you find some of my previous posts interesting.  As always, I appreciate comments on my page and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Zappa Plays Zappa Plays Helsinki

Frank Zappa was ahead of his time.  He was a musical genius who constantly pushed boundaries and never compromised himself for the status quo.  This eccentric showman would leave behind quite a musical legacy that has proved to be influential among many prominent artists.  Zappa's music is hard to define, but can be characterized as a mix of experimental, progressive, parody, rock, jazz and even blues influences.  He first born son, Dweezil has committed himself to bringing Frank’s music to a younger generation via his Zappa Plays Zappa group.

Zappa Plays Zappa would finish their European tour with a visit to the Kulttuuritalo (Culture house) in Helsinki.  Since all concerts are quite different, my friends and I had no idea what the evening had in store for us.  The venue was a few kilometers from the city center and the capacity seemed to be around 700 people. They kicked off the night with the first set which was done in honor of the 1973 album, "Roxy & Elsewhere".  It was the 40th anniversary of this classic live Zappa album so they would play it from start to finish. The band consisted of a talented female saxophone player, a multi-talented lead singer who also played horns and rhythm guitar (among other things), a talented keyboard player, a talented drummer, an awesome bassist and Dweezil Zappa on lead guitar.  The band played through their Roxy set while taking time between songs to interact and chat with the audience.  At one point Dweezil noticed some children on the shoulders of their parents and asked them to come up and sit on the stage to make things easier for everyone.  This was a very nice gesture from Dweezil and the children seemed to really enjoy coming up on the stage.  Also during the first set, a few folks volunteered to come up on the stage to perform a few small acting sequences with the band.  It was awesome to see this kind of crowd involvement and clowning around during a live concert performance in Finland.  It seemed that everyone was in a good mood and the band was just having a blast.  They definitely didn't seem like artists who just go through the motions in order to make a buck.  They also briefly celebrated the birthday of their bassist by giving him a small "Happy Birthday" cheer.  Everyone was feeling groovy and digging the good old vibes of an old fashioned Zappa concert.  These were true performers and multi-instrumentalists who really enjoy their craft. The first set ended after about 1.5 hours and a small 15 minute intermission would follow. 

Since they already played such a nice first set, I had no idea what to expect from the second set.  I was thinking to myself that just 30-40 more minutes of Zappa hits would probably be plenty of value for the money and conclude this awesome show.  However, little did I know that they would perform another 1.5 hours worth of famous Zappa songs.  While the first set was a nice mixture of songs from the Roxbury album, the second set would be a stampeding tour de force of Zappa classic and instrumental pieces.  This was truly a special set and the fans got more than their money’s worth.   They even played some of my personal favorite Zappa songs which included the "Black Page" parts 1 and 2 and "The Muffin Man".  Frank Zappa was known for his long and creative guitar jams during his live concerts.  Dweezil, while not just copying Frank is one hell of a guitarist himself.  He displayed his guitar chops during many of the songs from the second set which included many killer guitar riffs noticeably on "The Torture Never Stops", "Watermelon in Easter Hay" and "Muffin Man".  It amazed me how relaxed all the band members were while playing through Frank Zappa’s collection of favorites.   Many Zappa songs are incredibly complex and feature many experimental elements and time signature changes.  The band seemed to have no problem recreating Frank’s music and kept smiling the entire night while performing.  Once the clock struck 11:00pm, the band finally completed the gig with a 3rd encore song.  Since the show started just after 7:30pm, the crowd enjoyed over 3 hours of non-stop music and entertainment from Dweezil and his amazing band of  musicians. I have been to many concerts in my lifetime and rarely have seen such a band playing so relaxed and giving the fans every penny during a very lengthy performance.  In summary, Zappa Plays Zappa was definitely one of the highlights of the year’s past concert calendar in Helsinki.   Frank might not have been on the stage, but he was there in spirit and his star will shine brightly on the music scene for long time to come.  Thanks to Dweezil and company for helping to make that happen.

Ryan Brown: Drums,Ben Thomas: Vocals,Scheila Gonzalez: Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards & Vocals,Dweezil Zappa: Guitar,Chris Norton: Keyboard,Kurt Morgan: Bass
Complete set list here:

All photo credits: Oded Zalmanovitch