By Steven Neff, Rock At Night Orlando Correspondent
Reflection on Touring with the band Nightwish
Once upon a time, in the small town of Kitee, Finland, a man had an idea for a music project while sitting at the campfire one night. He took the idea to friends and they began moving forward together with the project until the trio had recorded their self-titled demo in the winter of 1996. Their first song on that demo spawned the name for the man’s idea and set in motion what would become a new musical landscape whose influence became far reaching and widely known. Nearly twenty years later and over eight million albums sold, 60+ gold and platinum awards, five number one albums, and thirteen number one singles later; Project Nightwish successfully turned the metal world on its proverbial head.
It’s hard to imagine that Nightwish will be twenty years old this year; and with those twenty years has come an epic journey for the band and fans alike. They were pioneers of the genre of symphonic metal and influenced millions of fans and countless musicians, all in just two decades.
With the passing of this space of time, the band has undergone its own evolutionary process, climaxing with the addition of metal goddess frontwoman Floor Jansen and pipes extraordinaire Troy Donockley; who, with founding members Tuomas Holopainen and Emppu Vuorinen, bass player and vocalist Marco Hietala, and drummer Kai Hahto; have written another chapter in the Nightwish saga known as “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”.
Nightwish is immensely influential and popular in Europe. While many across the pond have yet to encounter their metal brilliance, that is changing with each sold out venue during the band’s 2015 and 2016 North American tours.
And so we begin our “Chronicles” series, an extended road tour coverage where we attempt to bring the energy of the symphonic metal splendor that is Nightwish. Our tour coverage alone spanned 4,000 miles and twelve states in just one week, making us realize that we’ll need our own tour bus in the future.
The Chronicles Of Nightwish is about six master musicians and a tour of six cities where a beloved band and its fans met in the middle for a warm, metal embrace; experiencing something very special that would have lasting effects on everyone who was there. I was there and had the pleasure of that experience.
March 16, 2016 Kansas City, Missouri-Uptown Theater
March 18, 2016 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma -Diamond Ballroom
March 19, 2016 San Antonio, Texas -Aztec Music Hall
March 20, 2016 New Orleans, Louisiana -New Orleans Civic Theatre
March 21, 2016 Birmingham, Alabama -Iron City Live
March 23, 2016 Tampa, Florida-The Ritz Ybor
There are few bands that bring a live concert experience the way Nightwish does. There are no missing parts in this collaboration of masters, no ego, and no shortage of music. The setlist itself was some sixteen songs from an extensive track catalogue spanning several albums.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful 2.0
This writer was surprised and excited when it was announced that Nightwish would make a second tour run across the pond to North America in 2016. We covered the 2015 concert at the House of Blues Orlando and were captivated by the Nightwish experience.
As one onlooker put it, “It was the best live show I’ve seen. And I’ve seen bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac live.” While that may seem like a strong statement, you’ll understand once you’ve entered the realm of Nightwish live in concert.
This second tour run continued the success of the band’s eighth album Endless Forms Most Beautiful, which has garnered rave reviews; and some will argue is one of Nightwish’s best, if not the Magnum Opus of their twenty year history. The album itself was released on March 31 of 2015 in the US. The album’s concept? Evolution and the celebration of the diversity of life, which the band’s songwriter Tuomas Holopainen has masterfully created.
This writer listened to the new album, from beginning to end; discovering that “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” was not just a new Nightwish album, but a new Nightwish experience. Bravo. Endless Forms is one beautiful piece of work. The strength of the album’s success made it an easy choice to make another North American tour run.
FROM NIGHTWISH WITH LOVE
Sounds like another James Bond film doesn’t it?
Sources close to the band told us that Nightwish was playing this leg of the tour sick. They had to cancel the Boise show and I wasn’t too encouraged that additional shows wouldn’t result in the offering of refunds. To our surprise, the band pushed on and played the remainder of the tour. Unfortunately, due to the entire band having been sick, our interview, along with everyone else’s, was cancelled. But for the fans, the show continued; proving that Nightwish’s loyalty to its fan base is as noteworthy as the quality of the shows themselves.
The tour’s setlist comprised some sixteen tracks, varying slightly at times with the inclusion of “Nemo” from the band’s 2004 “Once” album and Alpenglow from the “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” album.
- Shudder Before The Beautiful
- Yours Is An Empty Hope
- Ever Dream
- Story Time
- My Walden
- While Your Lips Are Still Red
- Weak Fantasy
- I Want My Tears Back
- Ghost Love Score
- Last Ride Of The Day
- The Greatest Show On Earth (Chapters 2 & 3)
- Shudder Before The Beautiful
- Yours Is An Empty Hope
- Ever Dream
- Story Time
- My Walden
- While Your Lips Are Still Red
- Weak Fantasy
- I Want My Tears Back
- Ghost Love Score
- Last Ride Of The Day
- The Greatest Show On Earth (Chapters 2 & 3)
POWERFUL SUPPORT BANDS
An also great experience for fans was the choice of the support bands in Sonata Arctica and Delain. Both bands have headlined their own concerts and did a solid job during Nightwish’s 2016 tour. A note of importance is that the crowds during Sonata Arctica’s and Delain’s setlists were large, indicating that both have a strong fan base of their own as shown in every show this writer attended.
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
Bass player and vocalist Marco Hietala spoke to the crowds during the shows, alluding to the fact that there were all kinds of things going on in the world; wars, religious and political issues, etc. Marco wanted the people to enjoy the music, and enjoy it they did. Night after night, the Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour proved to be a concert event that fans would talk about for years. There really were no bands from Europe and there wasn’t an ocean separating people and there were no conflicts. The tour became a bridge that brought people together to enjoy the language and love of music, each and every night. If that kind of oneness can make a difference in a concert venue, what could be accomplished globally?
Nightwish is the metal version of the IMAX cinematic experience when live in concert. You don’t just hear the music; your senses come alive as the band takes you on a melodic journey. The band experiences this as well as you can see them all smiling as they connect with fans and each other and even closing their eyes to take in the experience of the music they created. They truly enjoy what they do.
Having the opportunity to experience six live Nightwish shows myself, I have to say that my review for each will be the same, spectacular. Given the fact that the band was sick and still managed to put on such an amazing show each and every night, this was truly impressive.
With that said, what more can we talk about in regards to a Nightwish concert that hasn’t already been said? They don’t ever put on a bad concert, ever. The last six U.S. shows were no different, each being an enormous success.
NIGHTWISH WINS TWO EMMA AWARDS
Before our tour coverage began, it was announced that Nightwish had won two Emmas at the Emma Gaala in Finland; one for Metal Album of the Year and the other for Export of the Year. Due to the tour in North America, the band was unable to attend the award show.
We began our tour coverage in Kansas City at the beautiful historic Uptown Theater on Broadway. Built in 1928 by famed Austrian born theater architect John Eberson, the architecture and ambiance of the Uptown was a perfect backdrop for a European metal concert.
Kansas City was also a bit of a homecoming for composer/keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen. As a foreign exchange student in Kansas, Holopainen’s host family took him to see Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses in Kansas City. That experience would change his path as a human being and a musician, evolving into what is today Nightwish.
As expected, the Uptown Theater was filled with faithful Nightwish fans. Delain and Sonata Artica both provided solid shows for the evening, despite being relegated to short but intense setlists.
When the intro began to play, the crowd erupted as this was the beginning of what they had come for. The stage remained dark as the intro played on for several seconds before the silhouette of Kai Hahto could be seen climbing atop the drum riser. When the crowd saw Hahto appear, the cheers reverberated throughout the theater.
Tuomas Holopainen could be seen in the darkness positioning himself at the keyboards as the Richard Dawkins intro played. Dawkins narration was the calm before the symphonic storm; for at its conclusion, the peacefulness and tranquility was quickly replaced by the melodic tempest “Shudder Before the Beautiful”. This is perhaps the strongest track on the new album in terms of what fans have come to expect from a symphonic comprised song on a Nightwish album.
After twenty years [come August], Holopainen still loses himself in the music. Watching him during live shows, you could sense that the music he composes continues to move him deeply as he plays and creates his own plane of existence during the live shows. He enjoys the connection to the music and extends it to the audience through his keyboards superbly.
I wonder if Holopainen had ever given thought that his idea, conceived while sitting at a campfire; would make such an impact in music around the world. The Kansas City fans were just a small example of that idea’s influence. I’m sure that he had as Tuomas is a thinker and a man given to reason.
From this writer’s perspective, Kansas City was indeed a successful homecoming of sorts for Tuomas Holopainen as Kansas City was the place where the spark began; and nearly twenty years later, Tuomas was giving back the fruit of that spark. The crowd showed its appreciation the entire show.
What a beginning for covering Nightwish’s live shows; sixteen tracks and a 90+ minute flawless performance.
Our next stop on the tour was Oklahoma City. Having never been to Oklahoma, I was surprised to have driven so many hours to see… nothing. These were dismal hours of my life that I can never get back. While on that lonely highway of I-35, there was nothing but field after field and no people. I would later find out while at the venue from one of the locals that there’s not much in terms of population until you get to Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Note to self, take travel to Oklahoma off your bucket list.
Expectations for a good Nightwish fan turnout were a bit bleak on my part. To make matters worse, it was cold and winds were clocking 25-30. The upside was that if there were no people and the weather was bad, I should be able to park up front and quickly walk into the venue. Nobody’s coming when the weather is this bad. But just to be safe, I arrived at the Diamond Ballroom about an hour early in the event a few people showed up that would otherwise force me to park in the second row.
The Diamond Ballroom is the epitome of Oklahoma’s version of Gilley’s. Oklahoma, like Texas, is flooded with cowboy hats and boots. What was Nightwish management thinking when they booked this concert? Your band isn’t even from southern Europe; they’re from northern Europe for god sake. Oklahoma City doesn’t look good people.
So I turned into the Diamond Ballroom on South Eastern Avenue an hour early to get that first row parking spot. What I got was directed to the back of the property because of the hundreds of cars that got there before I did. There seemed to be more cars in the parking lot of the Diamond Ballroom than the number of cars I saw on the road driving through Oklahoma, seriously. As I got out of the car, I moved as quickly as one would expect to get out of the cold and found myself at the back of a line that stretched around to the backside of the building. I stood in line in the cold for over 30 minutes behind hundreds of Nightwish fans.
What I ended up finding out is that the Diamond Ballroom has hosted major musical events with the likes of Bullet For My Valentine, Lamb Of God, Twenty One Pilots, Gov’t Mule, Steel Panther, Halestorm, Ted Nugent, and countless other solid acts. To top it off, Nightwish had actually played there before. The Diamond Ballroom hosts more rock and metal than country events. With over 50 years of live music history, the Diamond Ballroom is a major force in concert venues in the area.
So when I finally got inside, to my amazement; the DB was almost full. Delain had not even started their set yet.
A standout moment during Delain’s set was when Marco Hietala came on stage for a duet with Charlotte Wessels for the band’s song “Sing To Me” from Delain’s The Human Contradiction album where Hietala is featured as well. This he did for several shows on the tour.
Marco is an absolute gentleman whom the fans really appreciate and he let everyone know he may come out later to do some more [to the crowd’s delight]. “For now” he said, “I’m gonna piss off.”
Following great shows by Delain and Sonata Artica, the Diamond Ballroom was just about filled to capacity.
Chants of Nightwish, Nightwish, Nightwish began to spread across the ballroom. Chants turned to cheers as the intro began, signaling the Metal Monarchy’s appearance on the stage.
True to his word, Marco Hietala returned to play a little more for the fans, sporting the beast in his Warwick/Framus doubleneck guitar. The guitar itself could have been called the Green Goblin with its size and intimidating presence. That presence mirrored the glance that Hietala gave this photographer before transitioning into a warm smile. Thanks for that great moment Marco!
Hietala was a good addition to Nightwish’s arsenal since becoming a member of the band family in 2001. His heavier but powerful vocals are a good fusion with Floor Jansen and his guitar work is superb. Hietala’s lyrical influence can also be heard and felt in Nightwish’s current studio effort Endless Forms Most Beautiful [Weak Fantasy, Yours Is An Empty Hope, Our Decades In the Sun, and My Walden].
Hietala and Nightwish rocked a full house in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City was an overwhelming success for the band and the fans. Oklahomans indeed proved that they can rock with the best of them. Maybe that’s why it’s called Rocklahoma.
We headed south to San Antonio, Texas where Nightwish was headlining at the historic Aztec Theatre on North Saint Marys. Built in 1926, The Aztec was known as a motion picture palace and enjoyed popularity for many decades. That popularity would diminish over time and it closed in 1989. Some two decades later, this architectural wonder was re-opened as a concert venue in 2009.
Based in San Antonio’s Riverwalk area, the Aztec is a premier Live Nation Entertainment venue with a capacity of 1,500 people. This beautiful venue was a good size for a Nightwish concert, but still small enough for an intimate experience with fans.
In talking with one of the fans, they mentioned that it had been eight years since Nightwish had come to San Antonio. So the excitement was building among fans as a Nightwish concert in the area had proved to be somewhat of a rare event. Now the time had arrived for devotees who were gearing up for the expected symphonic metal explosion.
Like the previous venues we had covered, the Aztec was quite full during Delain’s and Sonata Arctica’s performances, which again proved to be at headlining excellence. It’s always a more enjoyable concert experience when you have quality support bands building the energy for the headliner and both bands delivered once again.
Emppu Vuorinen’s live show entrance had him exploding onto the stage at the opening of the first track. From there, it was a non-stop performance on his part for 90+ minutes, engaging with fans and bandmates alike. Vuorinen enjoys himself on the stage, but you could tell that he’s easily this way when there aren’t thousands of fans watching.
Vuorinen seems to be more of Nightwish’s quiet partner. While having no interest in being a guitar hero, Emppu’s influences in Nightwish are undeniable and his virtuosity at the guitar well known.
He enjoys experiencing the music as it happens; whether it’s alongside his mate Marco Hietala or Troy Donockley; whom one night he walked a beer over to with a towel draped over his arm like a waiter during the show. Emppu can always be seen having fun and he doesn’t seem to take himself seriously.
The only serious thing about Vuorinen is his driving guitar playing, which comes by way of the ESP EV-1 [Emppu Vuorinen-1]. While serious about his guitar skill, it’s been said that Emppu isn’t a fan of the guitar solo. The solos that you’ll find attributed to Emppu Vuorinen however are some of Nightwish’s greatest tracks [Ever Dream, Nemo, and Ghost Love Score], which by the way were on the 2016 tour setlist. Vuorinen’s guitar solos are short, but always memorable; allowing fans to sit and play them back over and over again in their minds long after the Nightwish concert is over. Perhaps that was Tuomas Holopainen’s purpose all along when he wrote the songs that included the Vuorinen short guitar solos.
The long Nightwish drought was temporarily over and San Antonio fans would not soon forget the concert experience served to them that night via Emppu Vuorinen and company. It was magnificent as expected. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before Nightwish would return again to the Alamo city.
Our next stop, The Big Easy, New Orleans; or as some call it “NOLA” at the New Orleans Civic Theatre.
We rolled into New Orleans and arrived at the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery on Tchoupitoulas Street where we were treated to rock star treatment [even the Do Not Disturb signs made us feel like rock stars, until we found out all the guests had them] and to the best hotel experience of the tour. Sorry Nightwish, but this was hands down better than sleeping in a tour bus folks.
Located four blocks from the French Quarter in New Orleans’ Warehouse Arts District, this five [rock] star hotel began its life as a warehouse serving the Port of New Orleans when first built in 1854 and over a century and a half later it is a premier staying place for the rock star in you.
New Orleans Civic Theatre is located on O’Keefe Avenue and was the scene for the next Nightwish live show. Built in 1906; the Civic Theatre is the oldest venue in New Orleans with a capacity of up to 1,200 people.
As expected, the Civic Theatre was at capacity during the Nightwish concert the night the symphonic metal invasion took over The Big Easy.
The inevitable conquest began when Kai Hahto ascended the drum riser during the opening intro, heralding the beginning of the show. Cheers came from the NOLA crowd when seeing the master of drums appear and Hahto gave a big wave of acknowledgement.
Kai Hahto has been a big player for Nightwish. The impeccable drummer was contacted by friend Jukka Nevalainen [Nightwish’s full time drummer] in 2014 who asked him to play on Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful album and the supporting tour. Nevalainen needed to step away from the drum seat due to health reasons over serious insomnia concerns.
Hahto agreed and his skill as a drummer can be heard on the new album and he proved to be a solid asset during both tour runs in 2015 and 2016. He has an extensive body of work that includes drummer for Wintersun, Max on the Rox, Trees of Eternity, Swallow the Sun, and work with countless other bands and artists; not to mention the fact that he serves as a studio drum tech when his life slows down, which as of late, doesn’t happen often.
Nightwish fans were happy to have Kai Hahto behind the drums and you could hear it each and every night he stepped on the stage. The Big Easy was no exception.
With two concerts left on the tour, I began feeling that the end was getting near and that was a bit sad. Four different shows had provided an already memorable experience. I forgot about the sleep deprivation and focused on the task at hand; finish this wonderful tour and take in as much as I could.
Heading east, we pulled into The Steel City, Birmingham, Alabama; for the second to the last concert of the tour. The venue, Iron City Live.
Another historical area, the connected buildings that now house Iron City Live were built in 1929 and originally operated as an auto facility. What a great place to bring imported European metal [music]! Iron City Live has a standing capacity of 1,300 and once again, Nightwish fan numbers challenged that limit.
A big surprise, especially with Birmingham being in the Deep South; was that Iron City was playing symphonic metal during intermissions. This was unexpected and this honestly was the first club I’ve been in that plays the genre. Well done. The capacity crowd was obviously well acquainted with the music and was looking forward to a night of metal mania.
Following Nightwish’s explosive beginning, the band took a turn from their usual and transported the crowd on a Celtic journey with “My Walden”. “My Walden” was the fifth track on the band’s setlist. This is a beautiful Celtic ballad which also marked the entrance of Troy Donockley, pipes virtuoso. As Nightwish fans already know, Donockley has been collaborating with Nightwish since 2007.
Troy Donockley is a multi-talented instrumentalist that has truly become part of the evolution of Nightwish and an adopted member of the band family. Donockley’s journey with Nightwish has come full circle with his inclusion into the band as a full time member in 2013. What began for Donockley on Nightwish’s 2007 release of Dark Passion Play as a guest musician spawned into appearances in Nightwish’s next studio album Imaginaerum, subsequently followed by joining the Imaginaerum World Tour and appearing on Nightwish’s DVD ‘Showtime, Storytime.
Donockley expands an already extensive arsenal of musical talent in Nightwish and he already had a very lengthy body of work before joining the Metal Monarchy and has been an active musician since the age of sixteen; working with the likes of Iona, Maddy Prior, The Bad Shepherds, Midge Ure, Dave Bainbridge, The Enid, Barbara Dickson, Kathryn Tickell, Mostly Autumn, Roy Harper, Mermaid Kiss, Magenta, Kompendium, and Ayreon.
Donockley’s contributions on the new album can be heard in “Élan”, “My Walden”, “Alpenglow”, “Edema Ruh”, and “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”; with the first three being on one of the chosen setlists for the Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour. Troy’s addition to the band adds even more to the cinematic and epic effect you get from a Nightwish album. And how is the live show with Donockley? Cinematically and epically moving.
The Iron City Live was bestowed with Imported Metal Live, culminating into an epic concert event that Nightwish fans had been waiting for.
The Metal Empire extended its reign with the final stop in Tampa, Florida at the Ritz Ybor. The Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour of the U.S. had come to an end.
The Ritz Ybor was built in 1917 and underwent a $2 million renovation to become one of Tampa’s leading concert venues. If you must end such an epic tour, Tampa was a good place for the U.S. chapter of Endless Forms Most Beautiful to close.
The Endless Forms Most Beautiful album had been the band’s first studio effort with frontwoman Floor Jansen. Jansen erased any doubt on whether the band could continue with a new singer. Her vocals are just stunning.
Jansen’s metal stage presence is a thing of beauty. In this writer’s opinion, stage presence from the frontwoman position during live shows was the one thing missing in a Nightwish concert prior to Jansen’s inclusion into the band. Not anymore. Jansen’s vocals effortlessly captivate an audience and when she’s not singing, she’s head banging and moving to the symphonic melodies coming from her band mates. Her choice of stage attire and her intuitive choreography to the music, coupled with the spectacular vocal range, make for one memorable live concert. Nightwish found the perfect leading lady. Jansen’s metal prowess can only be described as “elegance with a serrated edge.”
YOU HAD ME AT GHOST LOVE SCORE
Jansen’s first album with Nightwish was “Showtime, Storytime”; a live album from the 2013 Wacken Open Air festival in Wacken, Germany. Performing before 80,000+ fans, Jansen’s remarkable vocal display on “Ghost Love Score” alone proved that Nightwish would continue to be a tour de force in metal and that an exciting new chapter had begun.
Jansen brought her powerful pipes with her to Tampa for one final North American performance. As this writer watched the show, I noted once again the high energy this band produces with its fans.
I watched as Floor and the fans; both with uplifted hands, joining together and celebrating the splendor of the music. I watched Tuomas, Marco, Emppu, Kai, and Troy all enjoying the moment with fans too. It was as if we were all at a movie premier and the band was in the audience with the fans, experiencing that epic moment together.
As the band played, I went up to the balcony to catch the overall view of the stage and standing room capacity crowd. The stage lights illuminated a sea of metal conscious Nightwish fans who, like all the other cities; had connected with the band in their own personal way and were feeling the energy coming from the stage.
Tampa was a sad, but triumphant goodbye for Nightwish and its fans. But what better way to say goodbye?
Music speaks the language of love like no other. Nightwish provided this in each and every live concert. Thank you ladies and gentlemen; until we meet again.
This writer wonders if the future Nightwish album would complete a trilogy of sorts.
To date, Tuomas Holopainen has taken fans on a journey through the land of imagination with Imaginaerum. With Endless Forms Most Beautiful, we have an album that touches on the origins of life. With the power of imagination in Imaginaerum and then visiting our origins in Endless Forms, where could Nightwish go from there and is there the potential of a follow up story in the future album?
We anxiously await the next chapter in the Nightwish saga.
Special thanks goes to Kristin Torres of Nuclear Blast Records for honestly listening to my crazy idea of The Chronicles of Nightwish and helping make it a reality. You are truly appreciated.
To Ewo, band manager, and Roger Smith, tour manager; thank you gentlemen for helping to make this endeavor possible as well. I am very grateful.
And finally, to Nightwish; many thanks to all of you for allowing me to be a part of something very special and then bringing that experience to fans. You are all remarkable human beings.
Steve is a Brevard County, Florida based concert photographer who loves the experience of live shows and tries to bring that experience back to fans through the great medium known as Rock At Night.
Whether it’s a one concert event or extended on the road tour coverage with music’s best bands, Steve covers the exciting experience of “the moment” and paints it across a blank canvas that he hopes music connoisseurs will enjoy.
A graduate of the prestigious New York Institute of Photography, Steve’s music of taste ranges from the symphonic awesomeness of bands like Within Temptation and Nightwish to the rock heavyweights of the 80’s and back to the beat of Armin van Buuren, with a little jazz and blues mixed in for some variety.
One of his favorite mottos: “Life is too short to drink grocery store coffee.”
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