HIM at Southampton Guildhall (28/10/2013)

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HIM are a band famous for writing the sort of darkly gothic love songs favoured by the heartbroken and dark of soul all over the globe. It’s the sort of music which people can become incredibly passionate about, and accordingly, HIM possess famously devoted fans. So famously devoted, in fact, that HIM actually won the most dedicated fanbase award at this year’s Revolver Golden Gods Awards. So it’s fair to say, that casual HIM listeners are very much in the minority at their concerts. Certainly, this looks to be the case today, where some hardcore fans are already beginning to queue outside the guildhall at lunchtime, a whole seven hours before doors are due to open.

When facing a crowd this utterly dedicated to the main event, any support act will have a long hard slog ahead of them to gain much in the way of recognition from the crowd. Especially when the act in question is an entirely instrumental, ambient, post -rock band from a small town in Massachusetts. While that description may sound like what you get when you look up the words ‘elevator music’ in the dictionary, openers Caspian were actually rather intriguing. Their music was beautiful, hypnotic and ethereal, and they managed to win over a sizeable proportion of the crowd watching them, although some of the die-hard HIM fans remained openly hostile right until the end of their set.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter how good Caspian were, the audience were there for one band and one band only. They immediately kicked off with new song ‘All Lips Go Blue’, a soaring lament, all chugging guitar work and deliciously overdramatic lyrics. It’s absolutely beautiful, and as the final bars ring out there was a moment of silent, awestruck, appreciation before the audience broke into yet more rapturous applause and cheering. Ville Valo and his band provided almost no patter between their songs, their music did all the talking, and inane between-song chats would have only detracted from HIM’s spell-binding performance. This was music as a sacred church, with the audience as a devout congregation, who certainly didn’t need to be told how to worship. They sang along, clapped, and danced jubilantly, all without a single word of entreaty from the band. Even though the guildhall was only two-thirds full, the atmosphere is palpable. Big hit ‘Wings of A Butterfly’ came surprisingly early in the show, a mere three songs in. It was stunningly played of course, but for many bands a song that massive would have been saved for the encore. Not HIM though, and sure enough, they had plenty of songs waiting in the wings that are just as good or even better. Highlights of this show are too many to list, with Ville Valo’s smoky drawl in brilliant form, but notable moments include ‘Passion’s Killing Floor’, ‘Join Me In Death’ and new track ‘Tears On Tape’ as well as live show staple ‘Wicked Game’. HIM’s performance of ‘Wicked Game’ could have easily be the lone subject of a whole review; such was the excellence on display, with the guitar solo being worthy of a special mention. The ladies of the audience seemed to agree, and a roadie had to be dispatched to gather up the bras littered across the stage. As things finished with a sublime performance of ‘Funeral of Hearts’, it was obviously not going to be enough for this fervent crowd. Sure enough, as the outraged howls reached fever pitch the band came out for one last song ‘When Love and Death Embrace’, which the band dedicate to recently deceased musical pioneer Lou Reed. And with that, an evening of absolutely breath-taking live music was finished, and the spell was lifted.  All that’s left to say is this: if HIM are coming to a city near you, beg, borrow, steal or offer unmentionable favours to get a ticket. Whatever you choose to do, seeing this amazing band live will definitely be worth it.

Photograph courtesy of Dave Rutherford @ Rutherford Photography

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