Two years have passed since our incredible experience at Ayreon Universe, and four since The Theater Equation, which meant that – according to new tradition – it was time for yet another Arjen Lucassen show in the Netherlands. Naturally, we hopped on yet another flight to Amsterdam, and a train to Tilburg, to be present for the final show of Ayreon‘s Into the Electric Castle (& Other Tales) on Sunday September 15th, 2019.
Listen along to the setlist on Spotify:
Much like in the past, they were able to get nearly the full original cast to appear in the show, including Arjen Lucassen himself in the original role as The Hippie! Lucassen is well known for being quite stage shy, so this was a big deal for fans, who rarely get to see him perform. For those who saw The Theater Equation back in 2015, he didn’t perform at all, and during Ayreon Universe, he was only present for a couple songs at the end of the show.
One of the first things we noticed was the massive castle on the stage, though not the same castle from the album art (that would be insane to pull off). There was a new narrator for this event, none other than John de Lancie of Star Trek fame (replacing Peter Daltry)! His part was further revamped with entirely new text – in rhyme, no less! – for the event. I couldn’t be certain, but I had the impression that the story was modernized a bit, for the world that exists 20+ years after the original album was released.
The show started strong, with “Welcome to the New Dimension,” “Isis and Osiris,” “Amazing Flight,” and “Time Beyond Time” introducing all of the characters. The vocalists had varying degrees of costumes, with Damian Wilson (the Knight) in crusader’s armor and Edwin Balogh (the Roman) in a leather plate but jeans. On the flipside, Simone Simons (replacing Sharon den Adel as the Indian) only looked aboriginal in her face paint, otherwise wearing a pretty black dress. Anneke van Giersbergen (the Egyptian) was likewise not looking remotely Egyptian in another pretty black dress. Fish (the Highlander) was in between, in a plaid trench-coat and tam o’ shanter. Another replacements included John Jaycee Cuijpers (replacing Jay van Feggelen as the Barbarian), who reprised this role from Ayreon Universe and looked extremely warm in his black furs.
Trying to describe the vibe of this show, it was like a halfway point between The Theater Equation and Ayreon Universe – it partially portrayed the characters in their roles. Take for example, the interactions between de Lancie and van Giersbergen prior to “Valley of the Queens,” where the latter gazed sadly at the narrator before her song after hearing his words, or how Lucassen sat on a huge beanbag chair during “Amazing Flight” smoking a hookah during Cuijpers’ parts. There was some acting of the rolls – not to the full extent of TTE, but enough to help bring the concept to life visually as well as musically. On the flipside, this show was still a concert first and foremost (though it did not have the spectacle of Ayreon Universe). Songs like “The Two Gates” weren’t as comparatively bombastic as they were in 2017 without the pyrotechnics and massive stage show, but nevertheless were executed wonderfully. Huge fans of the album may have appreciated this, as it kept pace with the storytelling, but for me personally (as someone who is less invested in ItEC than, say, The Human Equation), all of the ItEC songs weren’t nearly as exciting this time around as they were during Ayreon Universe. Not to say it wasn’t good – far from it – but comparing Anneke van Giersbergen harmonizing with the backing vocalists to her harmonizing with Floor Jansen and Marcella Bovio in the forefront… well, obviously it’s not going to be as chilling.
One of the biggest surprises was Thijs van Leer (of Focus fame) who was playing the flute this time around. Still able to rock his instrument at 71 years, this guy was extremely cool on stage in his trench coat and hat. While I didn’t recognize him by face, the locals certainly did and there was a huge uproar when he appeared. Also new this time around was Marcel Singor on lead guitar. As much as I missed Marcel Coenens’ style and flare, Singor did a fantastic job – particularly in some of the crazy solos. A shout out to the rest of the band too, and let’s not forget Dianne van Giersbergen and Marcella Bovio, who spent most of the show up on the castle where I couldn’t see them but could definitely hear them. All of the music was expertly practiced and emotionally executed. They all did an incredible job. Adding to this, “The Castle Hall” and one or two more songs featured two growlers in skull corpse paint: Mark Jansen and George Oosthoek; the former was replacing Robert Westerholt, while the other reprised his half of the original role of Death.
Once the main album was finished, we moved on to the “Other Tales,” which promised to be one song from each of Arjen Lucassen’s other projects. This very cool addition to an already very big show featured Anneke van Gierbergen singing “Shores of India” from her and Lucassen’s project, The Gentle Storm. This was followed by Simone Simons replacing Astrid van der Veen in Ambeon‘s “Ashes” and Marcella Bovio reprising her frontwoman role for “Out in the Real World” by Stream of Passion. Damian Wilson shed his armor to sing Guilt Machine’s “Twisted Coil” and Fish returned to the stage for “Kayleigh” by Marillion (this was a surprise for me, as I didn’t know Lucassen had been involved in Marillion). They show began to wrap up with “Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin” – a Lucassen solo song, and then Robert Soeterboek made his (as far as I saw, at least) only appearance for Star One‘s “Songs of the Ocean.” Naturally, this brought everyone back to the stage, bit by bit, for an epic and grand finale with all cast and instruments present.
And thus, our latest Ayreon experience ended. For those with me who were huge ItEC fans, this was a truly fantastic event. For me personally, this was definitely the best show I’ve seen this year, though it didn’t quite hold up to the drama of The Theater Equation or the sheer production and showmanship of Ayreon Universe. Still, you’ve got a collection of some of the best vocalists around, mixed with an incredible stage show and amazing musicians… well, it’s not exactly like anyone left 013 looking disappointed. Fingers crossed that in 2021 we’ll have yet another reason to return to the land of weed and windmills for even more fantastic music!
Into the Electric Castle
1. Welcome to the New Dimension
2. Isis and Osiris
3. Amazing Flight
4. Time Beyond Time
5. The Decision Tree (We’re Alive)
6. Tunnel of Light
7. Across the Rainbow Bridge
8. The Garden of Emotions
9. Valley of the Queens
10. The Castle Hall
11. Tower of Hope
12. Cosmic Fusion
13. The Mirror Maze
14. Evil Devolution
15. The Two Gates
16. “Forever” of the Stars
17. Another Time, Another Space
18. Shores of India (The Gentle Storm)
19. Ashes (Ambeon)
20. Out in the Real World (Stream of Passion)
21. Twisted Voil (Guilt Machine)
22. Kayleigh (Marillion)
23. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin (Arjen Lucassen)
24. Songs of the Ocean (Star One)
Photos: Bear W.