When Arjen Lucassen announced on Facebook earlier this year that for the first time in 22 years, Ayreon would play some live shows, the fans understandably went nuts. With no promotion or advertising, the two dates at 013 in Tilburg sold out within the hour (that’s 6000 tickets sold with no promotion) and a third date was added only to sell out the same day.
Now, several months later, the wait was over and fans gathered for these sold out shows. Well I say the wait was over, but with doors opening at 7pm and many fans having been there for several hours already queuing, there was still more waiting as the show started at 8.30. The venue was packed long before the start time and people waited.
From the moment the curtain was opened, it was clear where some of the ticket money had gone. Lots of bands have LED screens behind them on big arena shows, but this was big enough to make many cinemas jealous. With a narrator delivering the prologue in a costume equipped with lasers the show got under way, and what a show it was.
Most bands make do with one or maybe two singers. Avantasia go over the top and use 5 or 6 on tours, but for these Ayreon shows, there were 16 vocalists used, coming on and off at different times. The vocalists included members of bands including Nightwish, Kamelot, katatonia, Blind Guardian and many more – Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Mike Mills (Toehider), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gentle Storm), John ‘Jaycee’ Cuijpers (Praying Mantis), Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion), Irene Jansen, Robert Soeterboek (Star One), Edward Reekers (Kayak), Jan van Feggelen, Maggy Luyten (Nightmare) and Lisette Marije (Scarlet Stories). All have appeared on Ayreon albums over the years but this was the first time they’d all been gathered together like this.
The backing band was impressive too, featuring 8 musicians – Ed Warby (drums), Johan van Stratum (bass), Marcel Coenen (lead guitar), Ferry Duijsens (guitar), Joost van den Broek (keyboards), Ben Mathot (violin), Jeroen Goossens (flutes, woodwinds) and Maaike Peterse (cello).
That’s a lot of talent on stage, and it really showed. The band was fantastic and played flawlessly, although I did notice that on the second night they were visibly more relaxed and started to put even more into the show as the first night nerves were out of the way. The vocalists were fantastic. It wasn’t a case of one or two vocalists per song – sometimes there might have been a single singer, but in other songs there were up to half a dozen of them on stage all singing at the same time. Hearing this would have been great, but they didn’t just sing, they performed so it was more like a play at times, particularly in “Loser” where the male vocalist was pushed around by five women screaming/singing at him.
All these singers and musicians would have been more than enough to make these shows some of the best I’ve been to for a long time, but there was so much more. The giant screen (plus two smaller ones on the stage) showed fantastic visuals that really enhanced things, so for instance during “Valley of the queens” when you had Floor Jansen, Anneke van Giersbergen and Marcela Bovio singing on stage, rather than using the screens to show the performers as you’d get in an arena show, instead since the audience is closer than in an arena they showed egyptian scenes to help set the scene. A nice touch was when vocalists came on for the first time, their name flashed up on the giant screen. Throw in CO2 jets and lots of flames and the visual elements helped lift the shows from special to incredibly special.
I’ve got the Ayreon albums and enjoy listening to them, but hearing the songs performed live was just incredible – they sounded so good. The set covered songs from all the albums and since they are all set in a fictional universe, the shows were titled “The Ayreon universe”
Understandably the biggest cheers of the night went to Arjen Lucassen himself when he came on a few songs before the end. For a man who has terrible stage fright he did incredibly well and you wouldn’t have known he had any nervousness as he played. He then spoke to the crowd and while it was clear he was nervous, he was also clearly overwhelmed by the amazing reception he and the other performers had. He thanked everyone involved (around 100 people) and talked for a while before singing the next song.
For the grand finale we had the spectacle of all 16 vocalists on stage together
Will there be any future shows? I certainly hope so as these shows were an incredible experience, but I wouldn’t expect more shows anytime soon as these took 2 years to plan and put together (hardly surprising when you imagine the difficulty of finding dates when all those vocalists were available to perform), so I suspect Arjen will get back to writing music for a while before thinking about more live shows. In the meantime, since the shows were filmed and recorded, we can look forward to a live DVD in the not too distant future.
Nightwish may have a song called “The greatest show on earth”, but that title belongs to Arjen Lucassen and Ayreon for these live shows.
Abbey of synn
River of time
Blackboard/Theory of everything
Dawn of a million souls
Valley of the queens
Ride the comet
Star of Sirrah
And the druids turn to stone
The two gates
Into the black hole
Age of shadows
Intergalactic space crusaders
The castle hall
Amazing fight in space
The eye of rah