Arjen Anthony Lucassen has come out of hiding at last! The mastermind behind Ayreon, Stream of Passion, and of course, The Gentle Storm, joined forces with long-time collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen to perform a show at Nosturi in Helsinki on February 23rd, 2015. Since Ayreon is a collaborative project, Lucassen is rarely seen live, but van Giersbergen is frequently touring with her various projects. As such, we jumped at the chance to see what they were like live, turning our whole week upside down just for the opportunity to be there. Here’s what we had to say about it.
I had literally no idea what to expect from this show. I tried to look up The Gentle Storm (their recent project and the name of the show) on Spotify, and found, after several days of trying and trying again, an album called The Diary, which had one song available to the public. It was called “Heart of Amsterdam” and there were two versions, the gentle and the storm. This was true of the whole album, it seems – that the first disc was the gentle (acoustic or orchestral) versions and the second was the storm (heavy). It immediately reminded me a bit of Blackmore’s Night (a renaissance band formed by Richie Blackmore and Candice Night), but it wasn’t exactly renaissance because there were also elements of jazz and classical music to it as well, along with something that I could only refer to as colonial-sounding. It was certainly a far cry away from the metal I have come to expect from them both. It was different and admittedly unexpected. Needless to say, I couldn’t miss this show. And whatever I had been expecting after this research was not at all what I got…
I was worried that I’d get to the venue late because I was feeling incredibly ill, but as luck would have it, I made it to Nosturi (which was shockingly full) in time to see Anneke van Giersbergen come on stage… alone. You can imagine my confusion (and I wasn’t the only one). The show listing in a handful of places had called it “Anneke van Giersbergen, Anneke van Giersbergen & Arjen Anthony Lucassen,” but I had thought it was a mistake of some sort. I was wrong – the first eight songs were actually just Anneke, solo and acoustic.
Not that I’m complaining. I’ve never heard her as a solo artist or an acoustic artist before, but she was absolutely fantastic! I have never seen the venue so quiet and attentive. She introduced herself, stated that it was nice to see us again, and joked that she’s here just about every week and she should just move into Nosturi since it’s such a nice place with nice food and nice people.
The first song she performed was from the project she left The Gathering for: Agua de Annique. It turned out that all of the songs she was performing were covers: Lorrainville (another band she had worked with), Chris Isaac, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, U2 – all songs I never would have expected, and all performed absolutely phenomenally. I’m not willing to label a lot of people as having haunting voices, but I don’t think there’s a better adjective to describe hers. And this was on a night when she claimed to be sick with a cold (hence why she was drinking chamomile tea between songs).
She also seemed to be having fun chatting with the crowd. Due to the aforementioned silence and attentiveness, the few who had something to shout out were more often than not heard, and she responded in kind. She mentioned that one of the last times she was here, she did a thing where she pretended to not know what song she was playing next, and said that some big, burly Finnish fellow called out, “Cyndi Lauper!” in a drunken growl. Someone tried to pull the same trick later, though she said she recognized that it wasn’t the same voice.
After Pink Floyd, she announced that she would play one more and then be joined on stage by Mr. Arjen Lucassen. The crowd let out a roar at that, and she finished her set with “Drowning Man” by U2.
When Lucassen joined her on stage, I expected the show to turn into The Gentle Storm, and I was once again surprised that that was not what was in store. Naturally, they started with “Endless Sea,” the song that was released on YouTube with lyric videos for both the gentle and storm versions, but after Lucassen confirmed that saying “thank you” in Finnish sounds like “kee-tos” with a long “ee” sound and not “kee-ee-tos,” they ended up playing a couple of Ayreon songs. So the show wasn’t limited to the new project, but spanned across Ayreon’s discography and even had a couple covers as well. I was quite relieved, honestly, having been rather unfamiliar with The Gentle Storm, and also thrilled because I am a big fan of Ayreon and expected to never hear anything by them live due to the nature of the “metal opera” style of music.
Lucassen mentioned that he was a huge fan of the version of “Mad World” that was featured in the movie, Donnie Darko, and he really wanted to do a cover of it. Hearing Anneke sing this bordered on disturbing. The haunting quality of her voice fused with the eeriness of that song was almost overwhelming. Afterward, Lucassen introduced another Gentle Storm song, but Anneke quickly realized that he had skipped a song, and he joked that he was trying to get away with not having to sing it. He admitted to being a whiner, saying that he complains about everything from flying to stage fright, especially worrying that he’ll mess up the show because Anneke always sounds so great.
We also learned that the song “The Moment” from The Gentle Storm was a tragic tale from the golden age (17th century) about two lovers who were writing letters back and forth while the fellow was at sea. She is writing to tell him that she is sick, and though it is quite serious, she is trying not to worry him. We then learned that “Comatose” is Anneke’s favorite song, though if it is her absolute favorite or favorite of the album was not specified. I have to say, I enjoyed their version of it better than the one from the album (01011001).
The set ended with “Day 7: Hope” from The Human Equation. There was a great moment in the middle of the song, where Lucassen tried to get the crowd to shout out, “Come back to me!” but the crowd didn’t catch on fast enough and completely missed the cue. They had to do it a few more times so the crowd could successfully redeem themselves, and it made for a good laugh. Perhaps the best part of the song though, was that at the end they very subtly and smoothly switched into “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel.
Naturally, they were called back for an encore, but they did make the crowd beg for it for a minute or two before returning. Lucassen then explained that once upon a time he had heard this great band, and he was blown away by the song and especially the vocalist, even going so far as to think that they were better than his band. Of course, he was referring to The Gathering, and they played “Strange Machines,” his favorite of their songs.
The second song in the encore was Lucassen’s all-time favorite song, “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles, and they finished up with “The Castle Hall,” another Ayreon song. However, the lights did not yet return after they exited the stage, and the crowd managed to call them back one last time, and they played the only track of the night from The Dream Sequencer, “House on Mars.” It was a great end to the show and the crowd had clearly been hoping for that song because they were practically screaming when it started.
So the real question is, was it worth completely screwing up my course schedule to come back to Helsinki for this gig? Yes, yes it was. I see so few acoustic shows that I start to forget sometimes how much I love them. This show in particular had everything – talent, selection, and fun. The two of them were really sweet and fun to watch, having a good time and bantering with the crowd, and they come across as really lovely people. And even in spite of Anneke having a cold, they both sounded absolutely phenomenal. For the cost of the show too, the performance was a steal. I’d recommend both of them to anyone out there, and particularly, if Lucassen is out performing, don’t miss it! The opportunities are few and far between.
Setlist (Anneke solo):
1. Beautiful One (Agua de Annique cover)
2. 4 Years (Lorrainville cover)
3. Wicked Game (Chris Isaac cover)
5. I’m on Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover)
6. Locked Away (The Gathering)
7. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
8. Drowning Man (U2 cover)
Setlist (Anneke & Arjen):
1. Endless Sea (The Gentle Storm)
2. Day Six: Childhood (Ayreon)
3. Isis & Osiris (Ayreon)
4. The Moment (The Gentle Storm)
5. Comatose (Ayreon)
6. Valley of the Queens (Ayreon)
7. Mad World (Tears for Fears cover)
8. Waking Dreams (Ayreon)
9. New Horizons (The Gentle Storm)
10. The Garden of Emotions (Ayreon)
11. Day 7: Hope (Ayreon) ft. Mrs. Robinson
12. Strange Machines (The Gathering)
13. A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
14. The Castle Hall (Ayreon)
15. House on Mars (Ayreon)