An Evening with Haken in Detroit

The concept of a seated metal show never entered my mind before An Evening with Haken. If anything, sitting at a metal show felt like a weird formality or, even worse, a sign of disrespect to the band. In a genre so synonymous with the impassioned movement of headbanging, moshing, and jumping around, how would sitting through an entire show affect one’s enjoyment of the music and performance? How would the band react to such a difference in response? These questions were heavy on my mind as I made the last-minute decision to grab a ticket. Not only am I happy that I caught the show, but I’ve also been won over by the “Evening With…” seated format. At least in the way that Haken does it.

Despite seeming iffy at first blush, the seated format works remarkably well. Clocking in at nearly three hours, a seated audience allowed the band to take the time and space needed to delve into the depths of their back catalogue and pull out some hidden gems to share with a very appreciative crowd. Although, there was some confusion about if and when the crowd was supposed to stand up.

As they started the first half of the show, Haken played all of the excellent and cohesive Fauna, the band treated us to a near-perfect rendition of track after track that was well-paced and contained immense power behind every riff and vocal line. If anything, the songs could come off as almost too perfect at certain moments, but this illusion was thankfully often shattered by tasteful improvisations and flourishes thrown in throughout the set. Mix in an excellent lighting set-up and some seriously groovy floral shirts, all the ingredients came together for a stellar performance.

Guitarists Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths, Strandberg eight-strings at the ready, flanked either side of the stage like guards to deliver a crushing rendition of the first tracks of the evening.  Meanwhile, the rhythm section of Ray Hearne and Connor Green built a solid foundation on which the guitars, along with Peter Jones’ synth sections could float atop seamlessly from track to track.

If there existed an award for throwing shapes, Ross would certainly make the shortlist for his moves. At times acting like a presenter showcasing the talented musicians on display around him, at other times taking on a role of conductor towards the crowd, he nonetheless exhibited an infectious level of enthusiasm and passion through his gestures and actions that created an innate connection between band and audience.

As we barreled toward the end of the first half, the entire band was delivering a power performance; Eyes of Ebony gave a wondrous conclusion to Fauna, and Haken subverted expectations by launching immediately into their nearly twenty-minute epic Crystallised off of 2014’s Restoration EP. An uplifting conclusion complete with sprawling instrumental sections and solos a-plenty to round out the first set, we all took a short intermission before returning for the second half–and what a show that would turn out to be!

Gazing through the setlist for the second half of An Evening With Haken, one could see the judiciousness with which the band approached their task. Every album was well-represented, with crowd favourites pulled from each to give equal footing. And, with most of the crowd standing at this point, we were also on equal footing with regards to energy. Liberated from our seats, we were free to headbang to our heart’s content–and there was ample opportunity for it!

Opening with the high-energy bombast of Puzzle Box, Haken set forth a powerful pace that kept driving through the rest of the show, though interspersed at times with slower, mindful songs like Earthrise. A natural push-and-pull arose, with sprawling epics like Cockroach King giving way to the tight and violent Nil by Mouth, which flowed right into the dancey, vibey 1985 and eventually culminated in a duo of tracks from 2020’s Virus, The Strain and Canary Yellow. The former of these tracks featured drummer Ray Hearne and keyboardist Peter Jones putting in serious work during an extended drum and keyboard outro that was moody and glitchy enough to perfectly match the album’s vibe.

Emerging on stage clad in a Detroit Red Wings jersey to raucous applause, Ross took us way back to Haken’s debut with Drowning in the Flood from 2010’s Aquarius. This throwback offered a treat to the old-school fans in the audience and a teaser to those who came to the band’s work from their later efforts. The same rang true with the encore, a sprawling 20+ minute epic in the form of Visions off of the 2011 album of the same name. A delightful roller coaster of styles, mood, and tempo, the whole track culminated in a massive choral section that the crowd was all too happy to sing along with, filling the hall with hundreds of voices ringing out in unison with a tone that inspired shivers from its sheer mass.

As the show drew to a close and the band took their bows, I was struck by the sense of the impact the past three hours had on our ears, and in our hearts. We all made it to the other side of the Haken wormhole, and I could still scarcely believe that three hours had elapsed in the process. Entering with a healthy appreciation of Haken’s work from a technical standpoint, I left as a true fan of the power and emotional connection forged during the evening together. With his final line, Ross asked “Can we come back and do this all again sometime, Detroit?” and I’d like to speak on behalf of Haken fans in the Motor City when I say–absolutely. How about a few more songs next time?

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