Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
Erja, starts the UK leg of her “Diamonds’, 20th Anniversary” tour in the Musician Venue in a quiet back street of Leicester. Having covered bands in this venue previously I knew it was going to be an intimate affair, getting there early so as to be in a position to see Erja, let alone photograph her was my first key objective.
Door’s tonight are a late one at 20:00hrs with Erja gracing the stage at 20:45. It’s been a few years since I’ve managed to catch a show so I’m looking forward to seeing and listening to the new album played live. Erja, later tells us it’s been 4 ½ years since she’s played over here.
First a little back story. Erja is a Finnish Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist. Her journey with the guitar started when she was only 15, late by some standards but she has not let the grass grow around her feet.
She studied at the Malmö ‘Musikhögskolan’ in Sweden before returning to Finland to study at the Sibelius Academy and was the first woman to have studied with the Electric Guitar being her major. After that she appeared on Finland’s MTV3 series ‘The Rover and the Beauties, being the band leader and lead guitarist.
The music being mainly Finnish ‘Schlager’ music, catchy pieces of pop music with simple happy, upbeat sometimes sentimental lyrics, the style has been represented in the Eurovision Song Contest over the years, so you can get an idea of the style.
Erja’s first album was released in 2002, entitled ‘Attention’. Since then, and including the latest ‘Diamonds On The Road’, she has eleven studio albums, this includes the 2005 collaboration with ‘Aynsley Lister’ and ’Ian Parker ‘on the album ‘Pilgrimage – Mississippi to Memphis’.
Erja has opened for and played with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Jennifer Batten, Robert Plant, Focus, Tom Jones and Carlos Santana amongst others.
She has been awarded the European Blues Awards – Best Guitarist, Finnish Blues Awards – Best Artist, Blues matters – International Artist, again to pluck a few of her many accolades to hand.
The moment Erja Lyytinen, the Queen of Slide Guitar, stepped onto the stage at The Musician in Leicester, it was as if a Shield Maiden had entered the arena, flanked by her two Viking warriors—her band members. With arms stretched wide, she screamed out loud as she thrust forward, before diving headfirst into the electrifying “Diamonds On the Road” from her album ‘Waiting For The Daylight’(2022). The burnt orange guitar glittered as Erja repeatedly struck the simple riff intro to this great tune, as she sang her bass player rocked, a big, contagious smile flowing from behind his glasses.
The set continued with “Rocking Chair,” from “Stolen Hearts,’(2017) a track that perfectly encapsulates Erja’s unique style, setting the tone for the night, full of wah wah pedal and a stunning guitar sound. The band members were introduced in a fast-flowing Finnish, making it a challenge for non-Finnish speakers, but the universal language of music quickly took over. (I think we have the ever-faithful Iiro Laitinen on drums and on bass Heikki Saarenkunnas, not the usual Tatu Black).
“Bad Seed” again from ‘Waiting For The Daylight’ (2022) quickly follows, the crowd were once again treated to the raw sound of the slide on the distorted guitar, adding a gritty edge to the performance. “Black Ocean,” another from ‘Stolen Hearts’ (2017) was introduced by Erja as being a long song, and indeed, it was a musical journey with the powerful combination of bass and drums creating waves of sound that engulfed the intimate venue.
The sultry “Last Girl” from Erja’s album ‘Waiting For The Daylight,’ (2022) added a different flavour to the set, showcasing the versatility of her music. “Waiting For The Daylight” continued the exploration of the album’s sounds, with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd nodding along, phones out to capture every moment of the show.
“Lullaby” brought a change in vibe, with Erja’s calls out for no one to fall asleep before an almost eastern vibe mixed in with a blue grass slide eminated around the stage before erupting into a display of controlled slide guitar, creating an immersive instrumental experience for the audience to enjoy. The intimate setting allowing for a strong connection between the artist and the crowd.
“Erja’s Contribution to Jazz,” from ‘The Sky Is Crying’ (2014) continued the sonic journey in the now very warm venue, it marked yet another guitar change, as the sound of the song resonates with the audience, heads were nodding along. Erja’s scorching guitar work, whether using a bottleneck or just fast fingers, was a consistent highlight throughout the show.
The infectious “You Talk Dirty” from the earlier album ‘Attention’ (2002) added to the atmosphere with its greasy, bluesy riffs, turning up the heat in the tiny venue to 11. The crowd now fully engaged, enjoying the immersive sonic experience that Erja and her band where delivering, their beaming smiles helping to light the way.
“Skinny Girl,” from ‘Dreamland Blues,’(2006) showcased Erja’s prowess, both in her guitar playing and her vocal delivery. The album’s early influence was evident in the sound being a perfect juxtapose with her later offerings, throughout, her backline continued to provide a solid foundation for Erja’s guitar virtuosity, with a concussion drumbeat and a thunderous ‘Valhalla’ type rumble from the bass guitar.
As the set drew to a close with “Wedding Day,” From ‘Another World,’ (2019). Erja’s gushing guitar sound reverberated through the venue, as she continued to play her heart out, smiling as she darts back and forth across the stage, leaving an deep-rooted impression on the partisan fans who have ventured out on a school night.
The encore was a thrilling experience, starting with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s classic, “Crosstown Traffic.” This has been released as her second single from the new Live album ‘Diamonds On The Road’. Erja’s version adds a fresh perspective, and her slide guitar flamboyancy although pays homage to the legendary Hendrix, certainly marks it as her own.
As a by note the single uses a kazoo to simulate the traffic where Hendrix used a comb and cellophane.) The night concluded with “End of Music,” another track from ‘Waiting For The Daylight,’(2022) that yet again showcases Erja’s ability to weave intricate melodies with the sound of her guitar, and once again leaving the ever-hungry fans wanting more.
Throughout the performance, Erja’s scorching guitar work, whether through the bottle neck slide or just fast fingers, has demonstrated her mastery of the instrument. Her influences, like Bonnie Rait, are subtly woven into the fabric of her music, helping to create her unique and captivating sound loved by so many.
Erja’s interactions with the crowd are a continued demonstration to her genuine relationship with her audience. Callouts to recognized faces, (Malcolm) a big beaming smile, and a willingness to meet everyone, added a personal touch to the evening.
The opening night of her 20th Anniversary tour, albeit a short UK leg, in The Musician in Leicester, a brief sanctuary for Erja Lyytinen’s musical prowess, she once again left the crowd with memories of a night filled with electrifying guitar solos, infectious energy, and an artist truly connected to her craft and fans.
Her latest album ”Diamonds On The Road” a live, 13 track offering and Erja’s 4th Live long player, was released on October 6th, it would make a great stocking filler! SANTA, I hope your listening, I’ve been a good boy!