Nightwish concerts in the UK are rare events, tours doubly so. This run of dates hardly counts as a tour, consisting of just three shows (all in England) but it is the first time (festival slots apart) they’d played outside of London since their 2012 UK dates, when vocalist Floor Jansen had been hurriedly drafted into the band. Six years after that turn of events, she has become the figurehead of the band; a towering presence, it’s no exaggeration to say she’s not only restored this outfit to greatness but helped them to still greater success.
The last time I saw Nightwish was three years ago in Amsterdam, reasoning it was easier to go over there than travel to London and Wembley Arena for their only UK date that time. They were supporting then-new album ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ then, after that tour they took a year off and when they reconvened, it was not for a new album but to tour in support of a career retrospective album, ‘Decades’. To that end, the setlist for this show included many older songs, ones that they haven’t done in many years and probably quite a few unfamiliar to more recent converts to the band (raises hand!)
With this show falling midweek and in Manchester, I feared a traffic nightmare since there are extensive roadworks taking place in and around the city centre, including on the motorway heading there. The delays have been bad enough to hold traffic up for around an hour, however I got lucky on this night as I was able to get to my usual spot a short walk from the arena in plenty of time to make it through the security checks and get a reasonably good spot about 10 from the barrier. That meant I was able to see openers Beast in Black, another Finnish-based group fronted by Greek vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos. I knew only two things about them beforehand: the fact that they were founded by a former member of Battle Beast (guitarist Anton Kabanen), and their single ‘Born Again’. I’d heard that on a rock radio show, which was broadcasting in my local area up until around this time last year, and liked it for the strong vocal and to be honest, overblown production!
The band on stage are a quintet, featuring two guitarists (Kabanen is joined by the equally fleet-fingered Kasperi Heikkinen), but surprisingly no keyboard player. Considering much of their music has prominent keyboard sounds as well as guitar, that was a little disappointing to find that these parts would be delivered on disk. Papadopoulos was as powerful live as he is on record, able to go full Halford when required or sing in lower registers. The band were typically Euro-Metal though, complete with synchronised poses, cheesy grins, and for one number (‘Crazy, Mad, Insane’) even wearing shades which spelt out on an LED ticker the words ‘Crazy’ or ‘Mad’. It all came off a little bit cheesy, a bit too Eurovision for me; I like my Metal with a bit more menace and doom. I could have lived with it all though, had there been an actual player performing all the keyboard parts we heard, and had it not been so obvious that the backing vocals were also on disk. Either that, or Kabanen and bassist Mate Molnar can emulate the lead singer’s voice perfectly whenever they stepped to their microphones! Even their delivery of ‘Born Again’ didn’t get me going, and I was sadly underwhelmed by their set. A pity, since I wanted to like them more than I did.
Nightwish’s set was heralded by a pre-show announcement asking people not to reach for their cellphones during the gig; a forlorn request as minutes into their set a multitude of the devices popped up in the crowd. First to appear was multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley with a gentle flute intro before the whole shebang kicked off in a spectacular way with ‘Dark Chest Of Wonders’. They threw the kitchen sink at this one; back projections, lights, pyro, flashbombs were going off all over the place, and the pace didn’t relent with ‘I Wish I Had An Angel’ providing a perfect one-two punch of an opener. Having got the crowd (by my reckoning around 7000 showed, which is respectable but in this enormous dome, it looked a bit empty) rocking they then reached into the back catalogue for their promised ‘trip back in time’, for ’10th Man Down’. Some of these numbers were so old that only founding members, keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen actually played on the recorded versions, but everything was handled superbly by Jansen. She made her own of even early stuff such as ‘Dead Boy’s Poem’ and ‘The Carpenter’; the latter introduced by fellow newbie (kind of!) Troy Donockley, whose flute, uilleann pipes and bouzoki added much to the band’s sound.
‘Elan’ (one of only two from the last studio album in this set) got the crowd bouncing in unison, before they delved back through the years yet again for ‘Sacrament of Wonders’. A lengthy set came to its conclusion with the epic ‘Greatest Show On Earth’, with the visuals in full effect both on the screen and on the stage, as yet more pyro toasted the first few rows. The encore was ‘Ghost Love Score’ after which the ensemble took their bows as the conclusion of ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ played on tape.
Although this was every bit the full-on, slick arena production we’ve come to expect from Nightwish, there was still some fun to be had. Jansen tries and fails to get Emppu Vuorinen to dance with her mid-set, and she is later seen enjoying a glass of wine with Tuomas Holopainen while Marco Hietala talks to the audience. An observation I made back in 2012 still holds, in that she is so much the face and voice of the band now, that anyone new to them would think it’s been her band all along. I also said that they should move heaven and earth to keep her around as she was the one to make them great again; they did and she has.
All in all then a real ‘event’ of an arena show which deserved more of an audience than it got. Coming as it did in the middle of three big shows at this place (Black Stone Cherry performed the night before, Def Leppard the following night) that might have affected attendance, as people pick and choose which big gig to attend. However, for the show itself I have to award all five inflatable guitars.