NIGHTWISH – A Look Back On Tour, A Decade Ago

September 26, 2017, a year ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal nightwish

With the Finns taking a well-deserved hiatus, prior to the next touring cycle, there's been little hard news surrounding the band. Thus, this flashback, the edited excerpts from a previously published (in print form only!) on-tour report, in 2007. While a few faces have changed since then and tons of new fans have come onboard, worldwide, here's a firsthand glimpse into a slice of band history. Enjoy.

Like European explorers hundreds of years earlier, Nightwish struck out, across the American southwest, in search of new discoveries. The Finns were gracious enough to offer BraveWords unfettered access to shows, backstage/dressing rooms, the tour bus, etc. The key is to be as unobtrusive as possible, giving the band their privacy, yet still get the story. Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Antonio and Dallas, all new territories, which afforded the opportunity to encounter a Veteran’s Day ceremony/military parade at the Alamo, see John Two Hawks perform “Creek Mary’s Bloody” and meet his wonderful family, as well as see/hear the subtleties of a nightly Nightwish show. Having not previously played in these areas (apart from Flagstaff, AZ, in ’04) there were less business and personal contacts each night.

November 7th

The absence of a clothes dryer inside the Marquee Theater sees trees strewn with socks, shirts and pants, quickly baking in the sun, as I arrive at the brown cinderblock Tempe, AZ venue. Surprisingly, none of tonight's early arrivals were tempted to steal a “souvenir” or rare EBay items. However, the venue’s security is heavy handed, having patrons remove shoes for inspection before entering! I thought Philly, NYC and the East Coast were rough, but throughout the southwest, apparently dealing with border control has crept into the mindset of everyday life.

Prior to sound check finds the band napping, watching the bus’s satellite television or keeping to themselves, often with SMS messages on the cell phones, or in bassist Marco Hietala’s case, lost in his video game, when not doing the daily phone interview(s). Mainman/keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen is fretting about developing the perfect Scandinavian set list. “The harder songs have to be in the right place, to give the singer time to recover. You don’t want to burn out the vocalist (which we almost did). The set needs to build. Air conditioning, changes in the atmosphere and having to be able to sleep on the bus all affect the voice.” Speaking of sleeping in moving racks of 6foot long, 3 ft. wide and about 18 inches high bunks, Holopainen adds, “I’m uneasy about turning my life over to someone I don’t know (driver). What if he falls asleep?”

4:30, it’s time for the sound check, which can change from day-to-day. They run through “Sahara”, “The Islander” and “Come Cover Me” within the empty hall, which can hold 1,500 standing room only fans, although there won’t be that full this night. Despite a small, air conditioned dressing room, the bus provides a sense of home, away from home. In none of these cities does the promoter provide any food (opting for the cash buy-out), so meals come in the form of microwave dinners and/or cold cut sandwiches. Besides, the band is more enamored with liquid refreshment (well, maybe not singer Anette Olzon: “Talk to me in three years,” jokes Tuomas, about her developing a taste for alcohol), although they’ve toned it down a bit. According to manager Ewo Pohjola, during Century Child tours five bottles of vodka were downed before they hit the stage! These days, most of the partying comes after the concert.

The Marquee opens two hours before the first band, kids anxious to get out of the heat. Not much for them to do, so they queue up to buy Nightwish merchandise (neither hoodies nor long sleeves are big sellers in the desert southwest). About two hours prior to show time, Jukka Nevalainen warms up his microwave platter, a vegetarian who avoids meat, fish and chicken, but will do cheese and/or eggs, the drummer's choices are the most limited, thus the bus’s fridge is stocked with a couple days’ supply. The crowd is generally young, escorted by their parents (many of whom buy shirts for themselves!). At this point, the set is fairly consistent, opening with “Bye, Bye Beautiful”. While she doesn’t make the multiple costume changes of her predecessor, each night sees Anette (a onetime hairdresser) in a slightly different outfit. Decked out in patchwork dress, her hair in loose pig tails, tied back with red ribbons, she recalled Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz (a recurrent theme throughout our little trip), apart from the knee-hi boots, with visible skull socks. Hopping around the stage, arms flailing like a juiced up Muppet, the new singer brings liveliness long absent from the stage show. In addition to her easy-going rapport with the audience (sharing the mic and joking with Marco), her trademark appears to be a wry, seductive wink. Sure to melt the hearts of many a young boy, particularly in the nightly plug to sell condoms, on sale at the merch booth, delivered prior to “Whoever Brings The Night”. 

“Ever Dream” sees her punctuating the song with more desperation than Tarja Turunen's classical interpretation. Following the blackened/barren stage of “The Islander”, the introduction and re-emergence for “Poet & The Pendulum” is like a second start to the show. While the song selection remains unchanged, the raps to the crowd aren’t canned, varying the theme nightly. To introduce “Wish I Had An Angel”, Olzon devilishly cooed to Hietala (playing her best Lucille Ball to his straight man Ricky Ricardo), “Maybe we should give them something back? An Angel?” The place erupted in high pitch, mainly feminine voices, a fitting close to the night.

 Afterwards, there’s a signing session, the line stretching for a couple hundred meters. Despite the lengthy wait (almost two hours for those at the back), they wait patiently in the still-warm Arizona night for a chance to say thanks, get a hug or photo op with favorite band member, before heading home. When finally done, back on the bus it’s a quick post-gig beer with some friends, before heading for the hotel to take a shower. Most American venues do not have bathing facilities, so the band rents a pair of hotel rooms (shower rooms) in each town, one for the band, one for the crew. Jobs completely, the bus heads to the hotel, where everyone cleans themselves up, then it’s on the road for Albuquerque, almost seven hours driving time (even more with the occasional stop for fuel, food and potty breaks. No #2 in the bus toilet!). 

On to New Mexico!

November 8th 

The overnight trip from Tempe sees our bus driver vainly searching for the hotel, as there is no bus parking outside the Sunshine Theater, located in Albuquerque' bar lined historic district. After checking in and cleaning up, Anette and Jukka head off to explore the town, on foot, ultimately stopping in an Asian restaurant, for (“not quite Swedish”) meatballs and, to the vegetarian Nevalainen’s horror, a dish including “fish sauce” (the proprietor’s usual description).

5:30, still haven’t sound checked, although everyone is here, in the safety orange colored confines of the dressing room, located beneath the old theater’s stage. An alcove is allotted the opening act, Nightwish holed up in the main room, complete with five couches. Marco is once more preoccupied with his video game, as Jukka surfs the Net and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen checks his ubiquitous cell phone. Everyone gets a laugh when the road crew attempts to set the levels, (very poorly) mimicking Tuomas’ keyboard runs.

Despite temperatures in the low 60s (16C), the locals wear coats. During sound check, Tuomas and Emppu fool around with classical interludes, between the scheduled Nightwish tracks: “Amaranth”, “Bye, Bye Beautiful” and the nightly rendition of “The Islander”, which requires a little extra tinkering, due to the different levels inherent with acoustic guitars. Emppu and Anette remain seated throughout and today, she doesn’t sing at all, attempting to save her voice on back-to-back shows. A girly-girl through and through, she wears heels to sound check.

Check completed, it’s back to the bowels of the venue, down a winding staircase. During the opener's set, Anette does her make-up. Marco seeming hasn’t moved in two hours, intensely gazing into the game screen. Jukka and Tuomas are working on the next video, on the drummer’s black Mac laptop, while Emppu has been conspicuously absent for the last few hours. Unlike balding drummers, Jukka doesn’t need a bandanna to cover any sins. He tried to play without it, but his flailing hair got into his eye and mouth, convincing him to keep things under wraps. Tuomas begins to stretch and Anette works through her vocal scales, including lots of “m” words, “Meow,” “My”…

Half hour to go and backstage is abuzz. Techs leave, to get ready. Emppu starts limbering up. Marco grabs a bottle of vodka to take onstage. Any fooling around ceases, as their serious side takes over. Jukka warms-up by drumming on his thighs (no drum pad for this guy!) and at the 15 minute mark, he stretches, especially the Achilles. Following the intro, BAM the band are in action. Emppu runs through a repertoire of pick tossing and tricks, like playing his purple guitar vertically.

Marco teases the crowd, “Sunshine Theater. Sunshine’s nice, but I prefer moonshine!” Continuing the Wizard Of Oz motif, tonight our Dorothy is adorned in b&w striped stockings, similar to those visible on the Wicked Witch of the East, after the house landed on her. The band leaves the darkened stage, as pounding waves fill the speakers. Chairs line the front of the stage as the band, minus Jukka, reappear for “The Islander”, Anette wearing a tiara. At songs’ end, she introduces Marco, then walks over and plants a kiss on his cheek. 

Both onstage and off, I have never seen Tuomas so happy. The band enjoys each other’s company, which translates to better shows. Anette laments to the crowd, “Everything I say, the boys think is dirty.” Marco chides, “You do it on purpose,” to which she retorts, “Girls, it’s just the guys’ dirty minds isn’t it (huge response). It’s warm in here. Maybe you should buy some rubbers, because when you get close, in all that heat, you might get wet!” She laughs and they break into “Whoever Brings The Night”. Periodically, mosh pits break out, even during “Nemo”? If you’re going to thrash it out for “Nemo” and “7 Days Of The Wolves” you better slam for “Wishmaster”, which is significantly faster/harder than the aforementioned! For the “Angel” finale, it was absolute pandemonium. Afterwards, the appreciative band hop into the photo pit to shake hands and hug the front row.

After signing autographs and a few photos in the parking lot, it’s onto the bus for the all-day, 825 mile trip through Texas. On the bus, the smokers can do their thing only in the stairwell, next to the driver, separated from the rest of the cabin by a curtain. An aerosol deodorizer periodically, and without warning, automatically dispels a scented mist, sometimes right in the face of an unsuspecting victim, with comical repercussions! Entering the San Antonio hotel, a hat wearing Tuomas, whose sense of style embraces the rock star attitude (thankfully, with none of the ego!), looks like a young Buffalo Billy Cody or Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder edition).

After a shower, the band head for the River Walk, rows of restaurants and stores two stores below the level of San Antonio streets. A day off to relax in private hotel room, have a good meal (to each one’s individual tastes, although Tex-Mex is popular) and get to bed early. 

November 10th

Lobby call is noon the next day, although a few hours to kill before heading to White Rabbit, so everyone hikes a few blocks, to see the Alamo. There’s a Veteran’s Day celebration, complete with parade and military hardware and the old fortress can be visited, free of charge. Tuomas admits the tour has been more than he expected, “There’s only been one middle finger in 15 shows and by the end, we’d won her over too. I’m not homesick. I’m in no hurry to get home to the cold & snow. Everything is new and exciting. Ask me again, in three years.” 3pm, Two Hawks, his wife, son and sister-in-law ride with us from hotel to venue.

To say White Rabbit has seen better times, is being nice, as both bands refuse to use the dressing room provided. There’s no air conditioning, just ceiling fans meagerly circulating the stale smells. During the day, a caged parrot squawks in the common courtyard which connects the trio of cement bunkers (dressing room, club, pizza shop) via tin roof shelters. It would be tough to imagine Tarja playing here, yet Anette takes it in stride. “I’ve played these types of places, with cover bands, where people grab your ass, or yell, ‘Show us your tits.’ It doesn’t bother me.” Sort of an inauspicious forum for her first public airing of “Creek Mary’s Blood”! 

Sensing the anticlimactic surroundings, Two Hawks elect not to dawn the traditional buckskin wardrobe. The tall, slender Mt. Dew drinking Lakota is more than just a musician, serving as something of a spiritual adviser to Nightwish’s keyboardist, bouncing life and professional decisions off him. The two spend most of the day in discussion, on the bus. At sound check, it’s “Sahara”, “Bye Bye Beautiful”, “Creek Mary’s Blood” and “The Islander”, to which the clowning Anette and Emppu simulate ballroom dancing.

A couple more hours to kill, as it’s a weekend show and they notoriously start late, awaiting a string of arrivals from over the border, in Mexico. Anette opts for a Pocahontas look, hair in braided pig tails, held in place with a headband. The show progresses similar to the others, until “Creek Mary’s Blood”, with Two Hawks utilizing a repertoire of flutes, including two-headed variety, then reciting his shamanistic chant and ending soliloquy. A stunning moment, followed by a rousing ovation, as fans show their appreciation at this unique opportunity. 

Fresh from the stage, the band air themselves outside the venue, which quickly turns into an impromptu signing session, everyone mobbed, even Two Hawks and the semi-reclusive Emppu, who autographs from the bus’s doorway. An hour later, we’re back at the hotel, for a rinse off and the overnight drive to Dallas, where I take leave of the band.

That was not my first expedition with Nightwish, nor thankfully, was it my last, meeting up with them across the globe on several occasions: China, Montreal, Florida, Germany, NYC... Names may change, but the inner workings of the band and the (lack of) attitudes remain, refreshingly, the same. Like most fans, can't wait for the next chapter, starting in March 2018.

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