Two years ago Ayreon played their first ever show. While that may not sound exciting, it was for fans of Ayreon which had released their first album in 1995. The brain-child of Arjen Lucassen, the albums feature multiple singers and this coupled with his stage-fright meant fans (and Arjen himself) never expected the songs to be performed live, but following a theatre show bringing the “Human equation” album to life, Arjen was finally persuaded to try putting on a live show – the Ayreon universe show, featuring a selection of songs from the albums and a huge cast of singers. Needless to say the show sold out – as did the two additional dates, all within minutes. Now, two years on Arjen has brought Ayreon back to the stage to celebrate the “Into the electric castle” album. As with last time, it’s a big show with just a few dates, all at 013 in Tilburg. As Arjen announced near the end of the show, over the course of 4 shows (in 3 days) they were playing to 12,000 people from 64 countries – that’s around a third of all the countries in the entire world that were represented here.
In fact it’s more than a few gigs – the town of Tilburg was completely taken over by Ayreon. All the hotels were full, restaurants had Ayreon special deals, the local art gallery had an exhibition by the artist responsible for the Ayreon album covers, a local cinema had a special showing of the Ayreon universe DVD, a local brewery made a special Ayreon beer, and everywhere you went in Tilburg there were fans in Ayreon Tshirts.
While fans waited staring at the black curtain hiding the stage, eerie sounds were played that built up the atmosphere. Finally at 8.15pm it was time – after an announcement that some shows are being filmed so please dont hold your phones up,the curtains opened to reveal the stage set. With two towers, battlements and a gate, the electric castle had been brought to the stage. The narrator stood atop one of the towers setting the scene before the first singer took to the stage – former Marillion singer, Fish. In the album each of the singers plays a different character (Fish being “The Highlander”), so tonight each came out in the appropriate costume.
There’s so much to take in at an Ayreon show – in the first few songs all eight lead singers had come out and performed, and together with the backing singers and the instrumentalists it’s one hell of a cast…
Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR, ex-The Gathering)
Damian Wilson (Threshold)
Thijs van Leer (Focus)
Ed Warby (Ayreon)
Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak)
George Oosthoek (Mayan, ex-Orphanage)
Simone Simons (Epica)
Mark Jansen (Mayan, Epica)
John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis)
Marcela Bovio (Mayan, ex-Stream of passion)
Dianne van Giersbergen (Ex Libris)
Johan van Stratum (VUUR)
Joost van den Broek
Marcel Singor (Kayak)
Ferry Duijsens (VUUR)
Bob Wijtsma (Ex Libris)
It’s brilliantly done – they play the entire Into the electric castle album in order, with the narrator adding his parts tp tie the story together. All these singers and musicians are incredibly talented and to hear them performing solo or together is fantastic. Things are constantly changing as different singers come on and off the stage, and the screens work well to add great visuals that enhance the show rather than distract from it. It’s not all clean singing – at one point Mark Jansen and George Oosthoek came on with their faces painted as skulls as they added some growls to complement the lead vocals
Arjen Lucassen seems to have got over his stage fright – last time his nerves were clear as he talked and he only came on for a few minutes at the end, but tonight he’s got a far bigger part and is on stage a lot more and looked relaxed. After an hour and three quarters the big finale signalled an end to the “Into the electric castle” portion of the show, but as the shows were billed as “Into the electric castle and other tales”, there was more to come. After a short break (maybe a minute), the second part of the night began. This featured many of the singers performing songs from other Arje Lucassen projects – The Gentle storm, Stream of Passion, Guilt machine, Star one. One song though was totally unexpected – a familiar guitar riff started and then Fish walked on to sing “Kayleigh”.
The show really was fantastic with so many highlights it’s hard to remember them all, but hearing Anneke van Giersbergen sing “Valley of the queens” with Marcela Bovio and Diane van Giersbergen on backing vocals was certainly one highlight – and the deafening applause that went on a long time suggests a lot of people agreed with me on that. One thing is for certain – when the DVD is ready for release I’ll be ordering it and I’m sure most of the fans who attended will as well.