Could you ever really ask for more in life than a show with three Finnish all-star bands? How about if those bands were Sonata Arctica, Children of Bodom, and Nightwish? These three bands joined forces on July 31st, 2015, at Ratina Stadion in Tampere for an afternoon of awesome music! The forecast was uncertain, but we donned our raincoats anyways in the hopes that the show would keep us warm, and if not, the 23,000 other people there certainly might!
The gates opened at 16:00 and Sonata Arctica’s slot was at 17:30. We were there right on time to see one of our old favorites, and were greeted by “The Gallop” by Jacques Offenbach (also known as the can-can song) as an intro, featuring the weird, redneck-y voice from “X Marks the Spot” off their latest album, Pariah’s Child. Turns out, this is called the “Can-Can Jaakolla intro.” Translated, that would be “can-can with Jaakko.”
Anyways, to our great surprise and pleasure, they started the show with “While Pearl, Black Oceans.” This is a really nice song off one of their better albums, and at first, I was really thrilled to hear it. However, I realized quite quickly that it’s a rather mid-range energy song and honestly, not one that I’d pick to start a gig with; it’s more mid-gig material. It’s a shame they’ve stopped opening with “Misplaced,” because that was the right sort to get things going. They followed this up with “X Marks the Spot,” which was another odd choice. It seems that this song is compared to “Cinderblox” from Stones Grow Her Name in the sort of goofy, funny way, but I guess I don’t get the joke because I mostly find the song annoying. Of all the songs off Pariah’s Child they could’ve played live, I’d have gone with “Blood,” “Take One Breath,” or even “Cloud Factory.” In fact, I had really been hoping to hear “Blood,” but there was no such luck.
They brought it back to the classics with “FullMoon” afterwards, and it was clear that the crowd still loves that one, as quite a few people started screaming and jumping up and down. I wondered if they’re getting a little bored of the song because they’re taking more artistic liberties with it than they have in the past, though fortunately didn’t overdo it.
They continued with newer tracks, playing “I Have a Right” (the first single from Stones Grow Her Name). While I appreciate the meaning behind this song and the heart in its lyrics, musically the song is dreadfully dull – repetitive riffs and it’s just kind of uninteresting to listen to. Fortunately, they followed it up with “8th Commandment,” “Tallulah,” and “The Wolves Die Young,” which are all much better live songs, and really brought things back around mid-gig. “Destruction Preventer” was awesome live as well, and since I’m not sure I’ve ever heard them play it in a gig before, it was a real bonus.
Tony Kakko began to rein in the night with a heartfelt thank you to anyone who bought a ticket to this show, any show in the past days, weeks, months, years… and to anyone who will buy a ticket to any show (not just Sonata’s) in the future; those who buy tickets are supporting bands in the best way they can, and they appreciate it. They closed out the night with the ever-popular “Don’t Say a Word” (the one song I can’t live without at their shows) and then did the obligatory “Vodka” outro, and the show closed with what I learned was the “Preacher Speech,” going full circle from the intro.
All-in-all, this was far from the best Sonata Arctica show I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what that really says though, because Sonata is usually a lot of fun live, and you can’t be 100% all the time. The setlist was just a huge bummer, and the performance was dabbling in the “overdone” area, particularly on Tony’s behalf. I’m also not very convinced that his new look with the eyeliner and whatnot really suits him or their musical style. In defense of the rest of them, the performance itself was good, and though I have never felt that Sonata Arctica as a band can really muster the intensity to fill a huge stage, they were fun to watch and the energy was still pretty high. Ultimately, this gig gave me the sense that someone had gotten bored, followed by an attempt to shake things up. While I have never been one to fault a band for changing their live setlists completely, it’s still wise to think which songs have the best energy and which songs will leave the crowd wanting more. Relying solely on “Don’t Say a Word” to carry all of that is not enough. I hope to hear some better songs next time I see them.
Intro – Can-Can Jaakolla
1. White Pearl, Black Oceans
2. X Marks the Spot
4. I Have a Right
5. 8Th Commandment
7. The Wolves Die Young
8. Destruction Preventer
9. Don’t Say a Word (w/Vodka outro)
Outro – Preacher Speech
Next up was an all-time fan-favorite, Children of Bodom. I have seen these guys surprisingly few times, and after the last time at Tuska 2014, I’ve been really revved up to see them again. They were set to come on stage at 19:15, though the stage change took a bit longer than anticipated and they were around 10 minutes late getting on stage.
If Sonata was lacking in song selection, Bodom remedied it instantly. Since I haven’t seen them very often, I don’t know what their regulars are, but “Are You Dead Yet?” was certainly a good pick to get things going and wake the crowd up! “Sixpounder “was no slouch to follow it up either. In fact, I think the most praise for this show has to go to the setlist. Songs like “Hate Me!,” “Needled 24/7,” and “Halo of Blood” are sure crowd-pleasers and that thrash power certainly never slows or lets you get bored. Classics like “Lake Bodom” and “Every Time I Die” are always guaranteed to rally the old fans and thrill the new. I don’t think there was one mistake on their set.
There wasn’t a lot of banter, but it was worth mentioning that Janne Wirman (keyboards) told a nice little story about how once upon a time, Bodom and Nightwish had the same booking manager. He wasn’t especially competent, and they both fired him around the same time. This booking manager was quoted some time later saying that it was no big deal, because neither of those bands would ever make it big. The crowd got a good laugh out of the irony.
There were some mixed feelings around about the performance on this occasion. Many, if not most, were very pleased with the energy and enthusiasm the band was putting out there, though a few disagreed, saying that Alexi Laiho looked a bit bored and wasn’t full of his usual wildness. Myself, I suppose I can see what they mean, because it wasn’t at the level of Tuska, or even Sauna Open Air in 2013, but that certainly doesn’t suggest that the energy wasn’t good – just not at its pinnacle. Perhaps it had something to do with the departure of Roope Latvala. His live replacement was certainly good, but it’s tough to replace an icon like him.
They closed out the night with “In Your Face,” and they did their bows and farewells to “Fight for Your Right” by The Beastie Boys before heading off stage. I have less to say about their show because it was really consistent, really solid, and just really good. They didn’t talk too much; they just focused on performing and it was worth it. If I had one thought, it was that the presence of the catwalk was unfortunate because it took up all the prime moshing space. It was a great gig though and I’m really hoping that we’ll catch them again if/when they start touring for their upcoming album!
1. Are You Dead Yet?
3. Hate Me!
4. Silent Night, Bodom Night
5. Needled 24/7
6. Everytime I Die
7. Halo of Blood
8. Scream for Silence
9. Living Dead Beat
10. Lake Bodom
12. In Your Face
Outro – (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!) – Beastie Boys
That leaves us with the main event – Nightwish! As Heta Hyttinen (the lovely MC that I recognized from Sotkamon Syke) explained, it took a good 50 minutes for them to change the stage over, and the crowd went insane when the intro track (“Roll Tide” by Hans Zimmer) began to play.
In proper show-starting spirit, the band got things going with “Shudder Before the Beautiful.” Floor Jansen was decked out in a really regal outfit and some wild make-up, but pulled it off with class and style. She really is the pinnacle of Nightwish fronts, in that she has everything you’d want from both Tarja Turunen and Anette Olzon, only better. She has power and beauty and style in equal parts, doesn’t come off too girlie (which has been known to kill the “metal” vibe for some bands), and just generally rules the stage. It’s been a thrill to see her with them since she began subbing for Olzon and we can’t say enough how happy we are that she stayed on afterwards.
“Shudder” and the following song, “Yours is an Empty Hope,” were both embellished with pyrotechnics, and I have to say, though “Empty Hope” was not on my list of songs I wanted to hear live, it worked so, so well with the timing of the fire blasts. It’s my least favorite song off the album, and I wish they had played “Edema Ruh” in its stead, but man, you can’t deny that it just worked.
The band, of course, welcomed and greeted everyone – Marko Hietala in Finnish and Jansen in English, hoping that the night would be unforgettable. The stage banter was at a minimum, but we found out that the show was being recorded for a live DVD. It’s surprising they’re doing another one so soon after Showtime, Storytime, but who’s complaining?
To break away a moment from the show itself, it’s worth mentioning that the stage set up was really interesting. They had some lighting flats above the stage with patterns on them, and three large screens in the back instead of a backdrop. This had thematically accurate images on it throughout the show, such as the merry-go-round in “Last Ride of the Day” and mountains in “Alpenglow.” Lastly, the pipes and boats of past albums have now been replaced with strange earthen figures that I would really love to have some background on. It was far simpler than their stage set-ups in the past, though fit the atmosphere very well.
“Amaranth” was next, and it’s always a delight to hear, especially with Jansen on vocals, as she really steps the song up a notch. Stepping back a few albums, they followed it with “She is My Sin,” and we were all really excited to hear something off Wishmaster that wasn’t the title track – what a great choice! At this point, I also noticed how much I was enjoying Kai Hahto’s drumming. Though he doesn’t have the visual vibrance that Jukka Nevalainen had (who does, really?), he is arguably a more competent drummer and his playing was incredibly tight and it sounded great. It’s also really cool to notice how some of Turunen’s songs benefit from the less-operatic aspects that Jansen offers them. They get a bit more dynamic, and this was easily seen in “Dark Chest of Wonders.” Jansen is so versatile and really offers a lot to songs that you would have thought couldn’t get any better.
Let’s not forget Troy Donockley either, when talking about versatility. I love what he brings to the band with the plethora of instruments he plays. I also suspect that the band dynamic benefits from having two non-Finns so that one person doesn’t feel like the odd man out for making the rest change the language (believe me, I know how that feels). He introduced “My Walden” to the crowd, bringing us into the mountains. Hietala followed that by coming out onto the catwalk to perform “The Islander” with his extremely cool two-in-one bass/guitar. The band joined in for the latter part of the song, and while I love Olzon’s version, this was equally good for all its differences. “Elán” too, benefited from the live performance, turning the song up in power, making it a bit more memorable!
“Weak Fantasy” was another one I was excited to hear, and it was only made cooler by Donockley’s awesome mandolin and the massive blasts of fog from the ice machines and pyrotechnics. “Storytime,” of course, came next, and in that one, I began to notice the trend where Jansen, when singing the hardest parts of songs, always has a smile on her face. This is fascinating to me, because usually very high vocal parts require the vocalist’s mouth to be in strict form, and yet she does it while looking like she’s full of joy and love of life. Beautiful. Also, it’s fantastic that she actually sings the really high parts at the end, as Olzon didn’t.
The pyros weren’t done yet either, as there was… not a fireworks show, but sparks show, perhaps, in “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Strike another off the list of songs I had hoped to hear there too! Marco’s subtle harmonizing with Jansen in this song was perfect – they really sound great together. We were back to the mountains again with “Alpenglow,” continuing the trend of playing all the songs I wanted to hear, and I loved how the words, “we were here,” were scorched onto the backdrop images when they were sang.
Jansen then brought us back to the old days, asking if we wanted to hear an old song that they dug out for this tour. She tricked us though – they didn’t just play “Stargazers,” but “Sleeping Sun” as well. I love it when she sings Olzon’s songs, but man, she is really crushing Turunen’s songs as well. She did the opera parts in “Stargazers” beautifully, and “Sleeping Sun” is one of those “true love” songs for so many people and I can’t imagine anyone being unhappy with this rendition.
“Ghost Love Score” has become a bit of an obligatory track these days, it seems. I have been so glad that they brought it back because I think it’s one of Nightwish’s all-time best songs. However, they have been playing it live long enough that I think anyone who had hoped to see it has gotten their fair chance. It’s a pretty long song so I wouldn’t mind if they swapped it out for something else at this point. Not that I’m complaining, but am I the only one who is dying to hear Floor sing “The Poet and the Pendulum” or “Beauty of the Beast”?
“Last Ride of the Day” came in with fire and explosive energy, as Jansen called out, “Do you want to take a little ride with us?” Sadly, this song also hinted that the show might soon be over, but they wouldn’t let us go without a bang! They closed the show off at just about the 2-hour mark by finishing up with “The Greatest Show on Earth.” This is the kind of song you’ll wish desperately to hear live just once. Due to its length, I hope they don’t continue to play it after this tour, but I am, however, glad to have had the opportunity to see it this time. Even better, the night ended with a gorgeous fireworks show that could put New Years Eve to shame.
So after all of that, it’s undeniable that Nightwish has gotten better and better in the last few years as a live act. Their newest songs continue to please and add to their sets (fingers crossed that “Endless Forms” stays on), and though I would’ve made one or two small changes in the set, it was otherwise everything you could ask for and I really hope it makes it to DVD form because this is the kind of show you want to watch again and again. This will undoubtedly be on my list of potential best shows of the year and we can’t wait to see them again in November!
Intro – Roll Tide (Hans Zimmer)
1. Shudder Before the Beautiful
2. Yours is an Empty Hope
4. She is My Sin
5. Dark Chest of Wonders
6. My Walden
7. The Islander
9. Weak Fantasy
11. Endless Forms Most Beautiful
14. Sleeping Sun
15. Ghost Love Score
16. Last Ride of the Day
17. The Greatest Show on Earth
Photos: Lene L.