(2016) Ayreon: The Theater Equation

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Artist: Ayreon (Arjen Lucassen)
DVD: The Theater Equation
Release: 17.06.2016
Label: Inside Out Music

 

It is time! Ever since I made the trip to Rotterdam with a friend back in September 2015 to see The Theater Equation, I’ve been waiting for the release of the DVD so I can share it with pretty much everyone I know! Now it’s finally here! You may have read my rather in-depth review of the live show, so I’ll do my best to not repeat myself too much.

Listen along here:

The DVD starts off with a dark screen and the cheers of the crowd, opening into “Day 1: Vigil.” I was immediately interested in some of the stylistic choices. The first parts of “Vigil” are portrayed with a shaky, fuzzy cam, reflecting Me [James Labrie]’s state of confusion and lack of clarity. It’s a nice touch. On the flipside, however, the video has the tendency to jump from camera angle to camera angle without a very smooth transition at times, creating a bit of a jarring effect now and then. I won’t fault them too much for the only-decent quality, however, because I don’t think this was a particularly high-budget recording.

The performance follows the album fairly closely, with the addition of a few reprises here and there. Marcella Bovio [Wife] and Jermain “Wudstick” van der Bogt [Best Friend] begin the show rather uncomfortable with what’s happening, almost not caring about the state of Me. Marcella Bovio is perfect from start to finish, with her astounding voice covering me with goosebumps over and over. I particularly like her in “Day 10: Memories,” as she looks so happy, in love, and amused during the proposal memory. Wudstick’s performance as Best Friend is, I must say, an improvement from the album. As much as I love Arjen Lucassen and his voice, Wudstick manages to play the part with a bit more power and emotion, making him preferable to Lucassen. It’s present at the beginning, as well as in “Day 19: Disclosure,” and he really makes the part his own.

The emotions come to life in “Day 2: Isolation,” starting with Anneke van Giersbergen as Fear on top of the wrecked car. The emotions swarm Me, pushing him around, overwhelming him. There’s a nice little interlude where Me says, “I can’t hear! Why can’t I hear?” that I don’t recall from the album. I’m pleased that throughout the performance, the editors did a good job highlighting both the musicians during their solos, as well as the choir, who do a great job backing up Passion [Irene Jansen] and the others in the second song.

Before I move on, let’s talk about Anneke van Giersbergen. It’s no secret that I adore her. Some may not agree with me on this, but I truly think she was the ultimate replacement for Mikael Åkerfeldt. He has a sort of hollow, eerie ring to his voice on the album, and the ever-present haunting echoes of van Giersbergen’s voice, to me, are perhaps the only equivalent sound to that, even if they differ drastically on the surface. It’s true that the power of some of the songs, like “Day 6: Childhood,” suffer a bit from the lack of growls, but it’s possible this was more of an issue with the sound levels than the singing, as I recall the choir having covered the growls quite decently when I watched the show in person.

Who else were big highlights in the show? Immediately, Devon Graves as Agony, Magnus Ekwall as Pride, and Eric Clayton as Reason come to mind. I know I already said this in my review of the live performance, but seriously, these three just took over their characters and played them to perfection. Graves in particular shines in “Day 3: Pain,” naturally, and I’d say Ekwall and Clayton have their best moment in “Day 14: Pride” when they start to work together after facing off for so many songs, especially after their conflict in “Day 8: School.”

The Doctor [Peter Moltmaker] and the Nurse [Nienke Verboom] are a welcome addition to the cast, expanding on the story and making it more full. The choir, as well, have a few of their own parts, such as an added segment at the end of “Day 4: Mystery” and the “Reprise Pain 2” before “Day 11: Love.” I like as well that they weren’t choreographed, and were allowed to show their own feelings on the situation, much like an echoing of confused questions in a person’s mind. Their part after “Day 10: Memories,” however nice, does seem to be there just to provide cover for the stage changeover, as it doesn’t flow quite as nicely as on the album, with Reason’s part about letting the memories in going straight into “Day 11: Love” getting interrupted.

“Day 11: Love,” incidentally, is one of my favorites. I love that they brought the party scene to the stage, and I love the way the emotions hover on the higher level above the memory, throwing their thoughts into things. Labrie’s sulking at the side of the stage is perfect, as well as his interaction with Fear.

“Day 6: Childhood” has what I believe was another little addition at the end, when Love [Heather Findlay] sings an extra part that contrasts Me to his Father. Findlay is another all-star, in spite of her part feeling a little small as compared to some of the gentlemen. She sings so sweetly and has such great warmth and gentleness, that you can’t help but think of love when you watch her.

A few people had commented on the live review, noting that I hardly mentioned Irene Jansen at all. I had wondered why that was after the gig, because there is no question that her voice is a force to be reckoned with, and she is magnificent as Passion. I think perhaps the reason for that is, when you compare her to the likes of the decrepit and twisted Agony, the confident and obnoxious Pride, tender and gentle Love, and strong and steady Reason, she simply didn’t stand out. Of all the characters on stage, she was the most physically underwhelming, not putting much oomph into her presence, with perhaps the exception of “Day 11: Love,” though even there she tends to look a little awkward. Don’t get me wrong, she sings phenomenally, but her “acting” is the least present of everyone on the stage.

Another nice new addition is Mother [Anita ven der Hoeven], who makes an appearance first in “Day 6: Childhood,” and again in “Day 12: Trauma.” She wasn’t present enough on the album to require her own character, same as the Doctor and Nurse, but having her there visually adds something that would be otherwise lacking. The latter song, incidentally, is one of my favorites re-make wise, adding these wonderful harmonies between van Giersbergen/Graves and Mills/Jansen. Reason here is haunting in his part before Mother appears, withered away in a wheelchair. Van Giersbergen’s harmonies with the choir’s growls also work surprisingly well.

Mike Mills as Rage might be at his best in “Day 3: Pain,” and I’m still glad to note that Rage was far more integrated in the live performance. If I have one complaint about the show as a whole though, it’s that I just can’t get on board with Mills’ overall portrayal of Rage. He sings so wonderfully, but I feel like his best parts were the additions, like in “Day 15: Betrayal”, not the parts Devin Townsend wrote for Rage specifically, and those are the parts the viewer obviously looks most forward to. In particular, I have to come out and admit that I just didn’t like “Day 16: Loser,” which unfortunately is one of my favorite album tracks. In my mind, at the end of the song, Rage should fly out from off-stage and chased the Father away, who would have ideally been played by a separate character, the same as Mother. Having Mills portray both the Father and Rage at the same time just didn’t work for me. Also – and of course I have no idea if this was Mills’ interpretation or the director’s choice – I simply don’t like Rage’s stage presence. Rage appears more as the joker and doesn’t really have any anger most of the time, like in “Day 8: School,” though I hate saying it because he sings so well. Rage is goofy and over-exaggerated, rather than a force of fury, and it’s just not quite appropriate. However, the way he and Fear wither away at the end is a nice touch. And man, that guy does have some pipes. But in the grand scheme of things, perhaps taking out two growlers and not replacing either of them was a poor decision. Rage should have had a deeper voice and if I’m being picky, the ability to growl.

And one hell of a round of applause to James Labrie! He does a great job of this part, looking both worn out and angry, but coming back and showing, well… all of the emotions that the other characters play. Perhaps my favorite part of his is in “Day 14: Pride,” when he just wails out his lines, such as, “I really love her / I’m not a heartless man!” The “LET! ME! OUT!” at the end of “Day 18: Realization” is another glorious moment for him. He clearly worked his ass off on this part and it shows. He is the shining star of this whole thing.

There’s a few more things to mention as the show draws to an end. First of all, “Day 18: Realization” is just heartbreaking. Labrie’s face as Best Friend and Wife confess is perfect, and my heart breaks every time Bovio sings, “My sweet love / my heart belongs to you / but I was lonely and the need for passion grew / you were never here and even when you were / most of my words would go unheard.” The dynamics in this song are earth-shattering, especially when Love and Passion join in and it’s like an electrical current through my skin.

“Day 19: Disclosure” follows as the breath before the storm that is the final crescendo in “Day 20: Confrontation”! I get chills and tears in my eyes every time. The latter is one hell of a song to sing, let along perform, and these guys own the whole thing. One thing I particularly love about this is that, while Fear and Rage die out, Pain remains. He’s not going anywhere, because life will always have pain, it’s just a matter of accepting it and learning to deal with it, which is a lesson Me hadn’t learned at the start of the show. Labrie wanders around the stage, uncovering all of the difficult memories he had covered up earlier, making his decision final. When he has his last words with Fear and says, “Look at me… I’m alive,” and the whole thing begins to build up, I get choked up every time.

As much as I love the somewhat hilarious finale with Arjen Lucassen coming out of the pod, I have to say that I dislike the video editing on it – it shows far too much of the backside of the pod and its construction (the wooden parts, etc), thus more or less ruining the illusion of the Forever. Of course in the stage setting it didn’t matter because you couldn’t see it, but I personally wouldn’t have used the shots from behind quite so much. However, the viewer is quite easily distracted by Lucassen’s wonderful shiny silver outfit as he emerges shortly afterwards!

 

Overall, this show really deserved the DVD. In fact, I wish it had a better budget because it was such a rare opportunity and would have deserved a better quality video. Ultimately, the final product is still quite incredible and worth watching. And I don’t mean half-watching while playing Solitaire on your phone either. Invite your friends over, have some snacks ready, and sit down prepared to watch with your full attention, because it’s gripping, captivating, and so very emotional. Even the weaker and weirder performances don’t hold the show back as a whole. The Human Equation was nothing short of a masterpiece, and if you like the album, The Theater Equation is a must-see and must-have!

Rating: 9.5/10, 5 stars.

Tracklist:
Act I
1. Day 1: Vigil
2. Day 2: Isolation
3. Day 3: Pain
4. Day 4: Mystery
5. Day 5: Voices
6. Reprise: Pain 1
7. Day 6: Childhood
8. Day 7: Hope
9. Day 8: School
10. Reprise: Childhood
11. Day 9: Playground
12. Day 10: Memories
13. Reprise: Pain 2
14. Day 11: Love

Act II
15. Day 12: Trauma
16. Day 13: Sign
17. Day 14: Pride
18. Reprise: Vigil
19. Day 15: Betrayal
20. Reprise: School
21. Day 16: Loser
22. Day 17: Accident?
23. Reprise: Pain 3
24. Day 18: Realization
25. Reprise: Trauma
26. Day 19: Disclosure
27. Day 20: Confrontation
28. Dream Sequencer System Offline

2015.09.19 The Theater Equation @ Luxor Theater, Rotterdam (33)
The Theater Equation, Rotterdam 2015

Text: Amy Wiseman

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