Prātā Vētra plays to 40,000 in Mežaparks

Prāta Vētra

An estimated 40,000 fans saw Prāta Vētra in concert in Mežaparks.

To call Prāta Vētra a Latvian phenomenon would be an understatement. In a time when other groups struggle to attract listeners to concerts and sell very few albums (partly due to piracy, partly due to listener apathy), Prāta Vētra (or, outside of Latvia, BrainStorm) defies expectations and sells many compact discs and attracts hordes of people of all ages to their concerts.

It has to be seen to be believed. The Prāta Vētra juggernaut rolled into Rīga on Aug. 21. The open-air venue at Mežaparks was filled with listeners eagerly awaiting the concert. Reports are that more than 40,000 people attended. After the concert ended, the flow of people reminded me of that episode of “MacGyver” where he battled army ants—just this ocean of humanity all hoping to make it to the tram or trolleybus or other method of transportation.

The last time I saw Prāta Vētra was in December 2000 at Ķīpsalas halle in Rīga. Though also a reasonably sized venue, there were significantly less people there, maybe a thousand or so. That concert, as well as the 2003 concert at the Skonto stadions (available for viewing on a highly recommended DVD) gave an idea of what makes this band so popular. Prāta Vētra has all the necessary tools to be successful: great songs, quality musicianship, a charismatic frontman in Renārs Kaupers, and—essential—an army of teenage girls ready to scream their lungs out (not to mention buy their records!).

After calling the information service 118 to find out what time Prāta Vētra would be on stage and being told 9 p.m., I headed off to Mežaparks. Around 9 p.m. the second opening band, Double Faced Eels, took the stage. The Eels are a punk-pop band and have a current hit, “Zilais valis” (“Blue Whale”). I’m not too familiar with the band’s music, but they played well and were having a good time, so the time spent with them was enjoyable. I missed the first opening act, Mofo. Influenced by British pop, Mofo has recorded several singles and expects to release its first album this fall.
At this point, I was standing near the stage. But as 10 p.m. approached, it seemed like all 40,000 audience members wanted to get closer to the stage, so it got more and more packed to the point where I was unable to move. I had elbows digging into me from all sides. It seemed wise to extricate myself from this mass of people, so, sucking in my chest, I pushed my way out. I find it hard to believe that no one got seriously hurt at the concert, as it must have gotten even crazier near the stage when the band took the stage and everyone started jumping up and down. Some people had brought their little children—perhaps not the wisest course of action, but I guess everything turned out all right in the end.

Prāta Vētra opened with the title track of its most recent album, Četri krasti. The crowd became electrified and sang along with every word. For the next two hours, Prāta Vētra performed both old and new songs, and the audience was in a rapturous state the entire time.
Acknowledging the diversity of the audience, Kaupers addressed the audience in three different languages—Latvian, Russian and English.

I am not a fan of huge concerts like this. Besides the long lines at the bathroom, there is a certain loss of intimacy at these mass gatherings. The artists seem so distant, and usually the sound is muddy (especially in open air venues like Mežaparks). But the sound was better than expected. Vocals were clear and the instruments were distinguishable. However, with that number of people, the side effect is that often the audience is louder than the band. This was the case at more than a few moments during the concert, especially during the quieter songs like “Spogulīt, spogulīt…” Though it is nice that the band is able to bring record-breaking numbers of people together for a concert, I would much rather prefer that Prāta Vētra plays smaller venues.

Above all, the band was very, very polished. Everyone was in top form, knowing that they had 40,000 people to satisfy. In big shows like this, there is very little room for anything to go wrong, and as far as I saw nothing did. The performance was precise and professional.

The setlist was a balanced mix of new and old. I have found Prāta Vētra’s latest album, Četri krasti, to be one of the band’s weaker efforts, and do not like it as much as the band’s best albums (in my opinion, Kaķēns, kurš atteicās no jūrasskolas from 2001 and Dienās, kad lidlauks pārāk tāls from 2003). However, one of my favourite songs from the album, “Kur milzu kalni liekas mazi,” was not performed.

Because no concert review would be complete without complaints about the set list, I must beg the question as to why nothing was played from Viss ir tieši tā kā tu vēlies. No “Tavas mājas manā azotē” or “Romeo un Džuljeta”? In fact, quite a number of big hits were left out, for example, “Tu izvēlējies palikt,” “Starp divām saulēm,” “Brīvdienas nav manas laimīgas dienas” or “Īssavienojums.” I agree that the big hits sometimes need a bit of a rest or they get stale, but the band did find the time to play “Lidmašīnas”—a song that certainly can use a bit of rest.

However, the set list had many standout selections. Highlights of the concert were songs from Dienās, kad lidlauks pārāk tāls, including the driving “Pa pareizām” and the lyrically beautiful “Es gribu.” The song that received the loudest response was the Russian-language “Skoļzkie uļici” (“Slippery Streets”). Originally recorded with the Russian group Bi-2, the song is not on any Prāta Vētra album, but can be heard on MICREC’s 100% svaigs Nr. 6 compilation.

The group had set up a mini-stage, decorated to look like a living room, beyond the main stage in the crowd. From here the band went deep into its back catalogue, drawing a few numbers from the recently re-released album Veronika and elsewhere. In an odd segue, Prāta Vētra went from its first big hit, “Ziema,” to the Latvian folk song “Es nenācu šai vietā” (though thankfully the band only performed the first few of the dozen-some verses of the song). The highlight of this section of the concert, and a particularly pleasant surprise, was the performance of the Imants Kalniņš song “Elpo.”

Particularly touching was Prāta Vētra’s tribute to Mumiņš (Gundars Mauševics), the band’s bass guitarist who died in an automobile accident last year. A recording of the song “Spacemuminsh” was played while photographs and short movies of him were shown on a large screen.

The audience was overall very well behaved, though hopefully no one got crushed there in the mob in front of the stage. With all the people carrying beer around I’m surprised I wasn’t drenched by the end of the concert, but I did get smoke blown in my face from all directions. The benches in Mežaparks got the brunt of the abuse. Audience members were standing and jumping up and down on them, so quite a few are going to need replacing!

The subdued waltz-like “Māsa nakts” from Četri krasti closed out the evening. Perhaps after a two-hour, high-energy affair, this was an appropriate warmdown to end the evening on a mellow note. Then began the mad dash to the trams (sardines, anyone?) which supposedly were going to be free for all but ‘twas not the case.

Overall it was a very enjoyable evening. The lack of intimacy and the throngs of screaming fans did nothing to dispel the notion that Prāta Vētra is a truly great band. Even when before 40,000 people, it knows how to send everyone home happy and made this concert (as most every Prāta Vētra concert) a special event. Quibbles about the set list aside, with two hours of music how can you go wrong? Come back soon!


In concert in Mežaparks

Prāta Vētra

Rīga, Latvia:  2005

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

6 thoughts on “Prātā Vētra plays to 40,000 in Mežaparks

  1. Egils, Thanks for your review. I also attended the gig and agree with you that it is more enjoyable to see them (and every other band) in a smaller venue. I also agree with you that the album is not the best, but the title track I like very much and it was a killer start of the concert. On setlists people will never agree. And Prata Vetra has quite catalogue to choose from.

    I’d like to add some of my observations. They had the round video screen in the back and they had the B-stage. Reminded me very much of the Rolling Stones Bridges To Babylon Tour, only that both where downsized to the standards of the biggest pop group of a small country. At one point during their performance on the B-stage my wife pointed out to me: ”Look, he dances like Mick Jagger.” And I watched Renars for a while and thought: What the f…, why does he need to do that? It was so obvious. When at the end of the B-stage part Janis played the riff of Satisfaction it was more then clear that we had seen many references to the abovementioned Band from England. I still wonder why a band like Prata Vetra would need to do all that.

    Egils, but what is all your whining about pushing crowd, cigarette smoke blown in your face (oh my God!), people carrying around beer etc.!? OK, a place on the bench in your Ev.-Lutheran Church in Yonkers (your CV) might be safer place, but this was a pop concert with 35000 or 40000 people for God’ sake! I don’t want to be rude or anything, but are you sure you have the right job (hobby)!?

    And by the way, I also take my kids to pop concerts, especially when Prata Vetra is playing.

  2. i-m an Estonian fan…. 6 years already… Prata Vetra is THE BEST BAND in the world… Queen is a legend for me, but Prata Vetra is as much legend or even a bit more to me and… there are so positive people in the band that it is almost unbeliavable, that they really exist :)

  3. I want that Brainstorm (Prata Vetra) come to Spain someday, I saw in the Eurovision contest in 2000 and it was the best song that i’ve heard in this contest. It’s an amazing band. See you. Un saludo desde España

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