CONCERT REVIEW: Prog Metal Extravaganza – A Chronicle Of HAKEN’s 3-Hour Live Adventure In Toronto (February 25th, 2024)

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While some bands are struggling to adapt to the new landscape of the music business, others have learned to change course and thrive, even in the most challenging of circumstances. In a time when streaming took away the revenue from record sales almost completely, it’s important to find new strategies to captivate the fans’ attention and get them to open their wallets.

One band that has been particularly savvy in that regard is Haken: they’ve always invested in great t-shirt designs, unique merch ideas, and memorable experiences for fans, and as a result, their fanbase is quickly expanding. And it doesn’t hurt that their music is incredible either! Let’s take their appearances in Toronto in recent years as an example: in 2017 they played at Lee’s Palace, a venue with a capacity of 600 people, as part of their tenth anniversary tour. The year after that they came on a co-headline tour with Leprous and played The Opera House, which fits about 1,000. In 2022 they opened for Symphony X at the Danforth Music Hall, which fits 1,500. Last year, a triumphant return to The Opera House with Arch Echo as support. In 2024 they took the “go big or go home” mentality to extremes, putting together a three-hour show with no opening act. Those who know the financials of touring nowadays will understand the huge risk of putting together something like that, especially in a challenging market like North America. And yet, they’re surviving and forging ahead, as evidenced by the latest Toronto show on February 25th.

Photo by Jake Ten

The night started late in the afternoon, as a few fans were brought in for the meet and greet. A quick stop to pick up the merch that was included in the fan experience – a bass drumhead signed by the whole band, a tote bag, and a t-shirt of their choice, and it was time to take the seats. Singer Ross Jennings greeted the fans and answered a few questions, as the band was still doing a few tweaks in the sound and tuning their instruments. A few songs were played for them to warm up, and they even took requests. All six musicians were very kind to sign whatever was put in front of them and spent time chatting with fans with genuine interest in what they had to say. Individual pictures were taken, as well as a group one, and that was a wrap on the incredibly generous meet and greet.

Photo by Jake Ten

As mentioned by Ross during the meet and greet, having the audience seated is something new for Haken, and a scenario they’re still adapting to. However, they confidently started their set by playing the most recent album, “Fauna”, in full. Much like some of their peers like Rush and Dream Theater, the band has maintained their core sound throughout their discography, while allowing themselves to explore different sides of their musical vocabulary in every release. While they wore their Yes and Gentle Giant influence on their sleeves in 2013’s “The Mountain” and adopted a darker tone in 2018’s “Vector”, with “Fauna” they showcased their pop influences in a much more pronounced way. That is evidenced in songs like “The Alphabet of Me”, “Lovebite” and “Nightingale”.

Photo by Jake Ten

While playing an album in full and in the same sequence as the studio release might take a little of the spontaneity of the night, that didn’t seem to faze the fans, who engaged with the band throughout the first part of the show. Some of the noticeable highlights were the uncanny vocal arrangement of “Nightingale,” the audience singing the “who-eh-oh” part of “The Alphabet of Me” and the new fan-favorite “Lovebite”. Drummer Ray Hearne absolutely shone on “Sempiternal Beings”, while the interplay between guitarists Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths reached telepathic levels on “Elephants Never Forget”. The otherworldly precision displayed by the whole band through the jarring changes of “Beneath the White Rainbow” didn’t go unnoticed either. And in case you’re wondering, YES, Ross did hit the high notes on that song. Part one of the set finished with the first blast from the past, one of the most anticipated songs of the night: the epic “Crystallised”, from the “Restoration” EP (2014).

Photo by Jake Ten

After a half-hour intermission, Haken returned to the stage, with the same background as before – the dense forest from the “Fauna” booklet. The only change was Ross, now wearing a lumberjack shirt, as opposed to the Hawaiian one he donned during the first half. They kicked it off with the upbeat “Puzzle Box”, from 2018’s “Vortex”, with keyboardist Peter Jones playing some Muse-esque arpeggios towards the end.  Before the next song, “Earthrise”, the band played instrumental snippets of “Concerning Hobbits”, from Lord of the Rings, and – read this next part as many times as you need in order to process it – Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.

Coming up next was perhaps the most popular yet polarizing song in their catalog: “Cockroach King”. Loved by every single one of their fans, this song – infused with Gentle Giant influences – coincidentally seems to encapsulate everything detractors dislike about Haken. It was followed by the powerful instrumental “Nil By Mouth”, a strong contender for “most descriptive name of an instrumental song”, perhaps second only to Iron Maiden’s “Losfer Words”. The interlock between Hearne and bassist Conner Green was a sight to behold, as they easily navigated through the heavy riffage provided by Charlie and Richard.  

Photo by Jake Ten

The last part of the show saw them tackle yet another fan-favorite, the 80’s tinged “1985”, and two songs that made their live debut on this tour: “The Strain”, with an extended keyboard and drums outro, and the gorgeous “Canary Yellow”. The debut album “Aquarius” was represented by the last song of the main set, “Drowning in the Flood”. And the encore consisted of the title track of “Visions”, in all its 22 minutes of glory. Watching the crowd sing every word – even the narrated part at the beginning – would send shivers down the spine of even the coldest individual.

Photo by Jake Ten

Reassured and victorious one more time, Haken will continue their trek with a few more dates in the U.S., and after the last show of this run on March 6th, the band will embark on the Cruise to the Edge. A few dates in Asia in April and in Australia in May, and they’ll be ready for the next chapter of the band – catch them playing this mammoth set while you can!

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