Three years ago I made a late decision to go and see Nightwish at the o2 Apollo in Manchester (a venue I normally steer clear of nowadays), as they’d hurriedly drafted in Dutch singer Floor Jansen in place of Anette Olzon, after the latter took ill during the band’s ‘Imaginearium’ world tour and ultimately exited the band. Curiosity got the better of me that night, as I’d never heard a note from Jansen beforehand, yet had known of her reputation from her previous bands such as After Forever. I certainly knew all about her after that show; rather than looking like she’d been parachuted into the position just weeks before, she gave the audience the impression that it was HER band, and HER show with a dominant, assured performance. Such was the reception she got, it had to have convinced Nightwish founder Tuomas Holopainen that this was the right singer to take the band forward.
It wasn’t until another 12 months had passed by that the confirmation came through that Jansen would be the permanent lead vocalist, and the band also announced that British musician Troy Donockley (who had been touring with the group and played on the previous two albums) would be made a permanent member of the band too. The next album, the first to feature Floor Jansen (‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’) was only released earlier in 2015 and came with another change in the ranks; drummer Jukka Nevalainen had revealed he was suffering from chronic insomnia, and in order to deal with that he was to step down from the drum stool. So it was Kai Hahto who played drums on the record and, at Nevalainen’s request, went on tour with the band.
The tour was announced as far back as March 2015; disappointingly there was only one UK date, and that was for Wembley Arena, and scheduled for the week before Christmas. Good for the prestige of the band but not so good for British fans who do not live close to London. Instead, a trip to Amsterdam (for the first of two shows at this venue) was far more appealing; you can fly there from Liverpool, the station has good links to Amsterdam Bijlmer Arena station where the venue and my hotel were both within walking distance. Plus, it would be the first ‘homecoming’ concert for the singer as a member of Nightwish.
As it turned out, the scheduled Wembley date clashed with another concert I had since booked so the decision to travel to Holland was for me, the correct one. Arriving at Bijlmer Arena station, I found the venue as soon as I stepped out of the station. This part of Amsterdam is based around the nearby Amsterdam ArenA (home of Ajax football club) and features the Heineken Music Hall, a large cinema complex and a large shopping area. With the hotel just 200 metres or so around the corner, I was able to shower, change, get something to eat and join the queue before it got too long. The only downer was the wet weather!
While queueing, two stewards walked along the line to speak to the punters. Not being a Dutch speaker I didn’t understand a thing, so had to beckon over one of them to ask her to repeat in English what she’d said. She told me that there would be an increased security presence at this show; coming just a week after the terrible attacks on fans at a concert in Paris the venue management were understandably wary, and were asking for fans’ co-operation as they would be searched more thoroughly than usual on entry to the hall.
When the doors eventually opened, they were indeed conducting thorough searches. We were asked to empty our pockets as well as be frisked, it was a little like an airport security search but under the circumstances, it went well and I found myself in the main hall about six off the front. The Heineken Music Hall is a fairly big hall, mostly standing capacity but with two tiers of seats at the back. It reminded me a little of the Manchester Academy, only bigger, and had a large stage as would become clear later on. There were signs up to advise fans that there would be pyrotechnics in the show; they were not kidding!
First up on this three-band bill were Finnish act Amorphis; I’ve seen this band only once before and that was in their homeland seven years ago. Their music, while definitely Metal, is influenced heavily by Finnish folk and gets quite progressive in places. They’re promoting current album ‘Under The Red Cloud’ and their short set featured several tracks from that record. Although I knew none of the material, it wasn’t far removed from the sort of thing they played when I saw them last, so it’s probably fair to say they haven’t moved on much from the ‘Silent Waters’ days. The other thing I took from that set, is that it came across as the ‘Tomi and Esa’ show; they’re a six-piece band but the focus was very much on vocalist Tomi Joutsen and guitarist Esa Holopainen. It was a good set, but no great surprises.
Next up were Arch Enemy, now featuring Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. I’ve seen this band once before also, when her predecessor Angela Gossow was fronting them, but that was several years ago now. They played well, with considerable energy and enthusiasm, and they did get a crowd going, but the whole thing left me rather cold. Musically, they sound a lot like In Flames circa ‘The Jester Race’ to me, much as I liked In Flames around 15 years ago I couldn’t get into this band the same way. Perhaps it was the blue-tressed frontwoman herself, for all her effort I just didn’t take to her at all.
After that a huge curtain dropped over the front of the stage, while the technicians prepared the stage for the headliners. It was a lengthy interval and it soon became clear why once Nightwish did hit the stage and the curtain fell. This was a huge stage set, raised platforms and drummer Kai Hahto seemed to be playing from miles back. Opening proceedings with ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ from the current album, it was the sort of pyrotechnic spectacular that we don’t see enough of in hard rock/metal nowadays. From the word go vocalist Floor Jansen was cheered to the rafters, this had to be a big moment for her as she fronted this band for the first time in her own country. Initially, she addressed the sold-out crowd in Dutch but switched to English straight away, declaring it an ‘international show’. Perhaps she was aware that many from other nations had travelled to Amsterdam, or else she thought that it would be better for her own bandmates as well as some of the audience. Whatever language she spoke between songs, her delivery of those songs was first-rate. I was a little surprised that they chose to perform fan favourite ‘Ever Dream’ third song in; but it went down a storm with the packed hall. The enormous stage meant quite a bit of distance between keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen on one side of the stage, and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley (uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bouzouki, guitar and vocals) over on the other side. The gap was bridged somewhat by bassist Marco Hietala and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, who flitted between the two static players frequently. Another surprise in the set tonight was that they performed ‘The Poet And The Pendulum’, not often played on this tour but no less dramatic when it was done.
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The show was a real event; chock full of epic songs, accompanied by stunning visuals and frequent pyrotechnics. I imagine the band would have to concentrate quite hard on staying away from the flames or fireworks that went off at regular intervals! Unlike in 2012, when it came across as ‘Nightwish featuring Floor Jansen’, tonight she was more fully integrated into the band. She was still given a rousing reception from her home crowd, and she was feted by Marco Hietala who encouraged the crowd to keep cheering her. After this, she introduced ‘Stargazers’ after asking the audience did they want a ‘golden oldie’ (of course they did!).
The set (running to over two hours) ended with the climactic ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ before the band took their bows, the set ran for so long that there was little need for an encore.
This was without doubt one of the major events of 2015; as disappointing as it appeared that the band were only to play one UK date, it was alleviated somewhat by the easy reach of Amsterdam to those of us in Northern England. For anyone who is going to Wembley, strap yourself in for a wild ride!