Live Review: Avantasia – 02 Forum, London 8/3/16

I’ve probably typed the following a hundred times, if not more. Best gig ever. Now usually I type that when I’m gig drunk, so high on the energy and joy from a show that I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened, then after a few days it dies down. This time I truly mean it, Avantasia’s show in London is the single greatest show I’ve witnessed, and by god have I seen some good shows before. This is going to be a longish review I should say, no support band means no dividing the word count. Plus it’s digital, who gives any amount of a damn about word count!

This is my first “smaller” venue show in London. I use the term small with a pinch of salt as the place is still fucking huge, but it’s not Twickenham (Iron Maiden) or the 02 Arena (Iron Maiden again, I like Iron Maiden). I didn’t quite know what to expect, to be honest, there’s a little bias in me when it comes to London shows, and it’s not the Scots vs the English before anyone says anything! There’s a certain perception, perhaps unfair, that London crowds can be a little stiff. Now if that’s true, I certainly didn’t see any signs of it tonight, though considering the amount of people in the crowd from Scotland (I bumped into a guy I knew walking out of the toilet), Ireland, Wales and further afield that were there, this might not be a fair basis for a judgement call.

The promised three hour set meant there was no time for support which to be perfectly honest was completely fine with me. I love when you get a good support band or coheadliner (see the recent Alestorm/Sabaton review for example), but to get three full hours of the band you paid the money for is brilliant.

After the obligatory dramatic build up, they open with Mystery of a Blood Red Rose, also known as the song that should have won the Eurovision Song Contest this year. It’s apparent straight off the bat that Sammet’s voice is completely on form, better than he has sounded in a long time (which isn’t to disparage how he normally sounds!).

Get the chorus out your head, go on, I challlenge you.

The stage set is impressive, the stone steps to the raised platform (a must when you have about 13 people to fit on stage) sits in front of the giant Ghostlights album artwork. The sound is also impressive. I could easily forgive the sound man for losing a singer or two in the mix, or losing a guitar under the keyboard or the keyboard under the solos. Yet everything you need to hear, you hear. If anything, the sound person deserves almost the lions share of the praise.

Now this is Avantasia, and Avantasia isn’t Avantasia without a plethora of singers. Enter track two, Ghostlights, and enter Michael Kiske. If ever there was a human example for the term “still got it,” this is it. He’s the most casual looking guy on stage, no scarves or fancy frilly shirts flapping about, and for some reason that makes the ridiculous notes he hits even more impressive. It’s the lack of effort approach to melting your face that really does it.

Next came Invoke the Machine from The Mystery of Time with Ronnie Atkins taking to the stage, he remains out front for Unchain the Light with Kiske.

Then came Bob Catley, an obvious fan favourite from his reception, for A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies. The amount of arm work the man does on stage puts half of his co-singers to shame, and I’m sure he could also power a small village with the windmilling of that arm of his.

Catley stays out for the first highlight of the night, in my opinion at least, The Great Mystery. The epic from the previous album was a pleasant surprise considering it’s not exactly a two minute song, but then again, the same could be said for 90% of the set. Not content on having one highlight, Sammet follows up by penning The Scarecrow for the following slot.

Now if the crowd went wild for Catley, they went a whole something else for Jorn Lande, and if there ever was a song for Lande to walk out to, this is it. The Scarecrow is arguably one of Avantasia’s staple must plays, and hearing it performed by the original performers is magical.

At this stage in the writing process I’ve realised I’m a good 600 words in and not even half way through the set, so perhaps there is call for a word count after all and perhaps I’ll start condensing memories.

Lyric video for the title track from the new album

The amount of singers on stage at any given time is staggering, god knows how much the insurance is for this tour. Mr Big’s Eric Marin has his moment in the sun for the ballad What’s Left of Me. Herbie Langhans takes centre stage with Draconian Love, Amanda Somerville gets her spotlight in Farewell while Oliver Hartmann has his in The Watchmakers’ Dream.

Other highlight moments for me have to include the moment Kiske appears at the end of Farewell and utterly decimates the crowd with the soaring notes. The Wicked Symphony was a brilliant selection as well, and another surprise. Sammet rests during this point but considering how much of the time he spends up front, he probably deserves it.

The obvious highlight, apart from The Scarecrow, is Sign of the Cross. The closing moments see the song change into the chorus of The Seven Angels as all the musicians head to the front of the stage. Now if you don’t have at least the shimmer of the tears of joy in your eyes at this point, I declare you dead inside!

Twenty four songs later, in which we see the long dramatic epics of Let the Storm Descend Upon You, to the shorter singles of Dying for an Angel and Avantasia, the show comes to a sad end. You would think after three hours you would be ready for home time, but you’re not. I sincerely hope they return soon, and until then, I’m going to plan a way to see another date of the tour. Festival season, I’m looking at you.

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