NIGHTWISH - Return To Hitsville, Via Yellow Brick Elvenpath

March 18, 2018, a year ago

By Mark Gromen


Sure mastermind/keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen would appreciate the allusion to the L. Frank Baum work. With no new album to plug, apart from the Decades package of Greatest Hits, given away (free!) to everyone attending the concert, the Finnish superstars delivered a career spanning couple of hours that swung the pendulum back to yesteryear. While the last tour (albeit more than two years ago now) for Endless Forms Most Beautiful was chocked full of the (then) current album, at the expense of older favorites (at the time I called it an Americanized set, focusing on the last two discs), this latest trek is a godsend to older fans, those that have followed the band's rise from relative unknowns, to global/festival headliners. The majority of the tracks, Nightwish hasn't played in 10-15 years, if ever ("The Carpenter") on North American soil. What a treat! As if to drive the point home, while watching the set with co-manager Toni Peiju (after buying him a beer), he revealed (and confirmed after the show, in conversation with Holopainen) they are playing songs that predate his involvement with the band. Even the tour laminates and sticky passes, for daily guests/reporters/visitors feature the tree depicted on the cover of their Angels Fall First debut.

Holopainen, with his Willy Wonka top hat, has his keyboards set-up (as usual) stage right, piper (and now occasional vocalist Troy Donockley) has a seat, stage left. There's plenty of room for guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and Marco Hietala (bass, vocals) to roam about, as statuesque Floor Jansen patrols the center of the stage, an electrical fan blowing her hair, when she's not headbanging/pinwheeling it, herself. Behind the band is a video screen, augmenting each performance with an abstract artistic representation of the song. The night begins with a closed mechanical shutter onscreen and a booming voice demands fans put away cell phones and enjoy the show, like people did years ago. The irony of Finns (the land of Nokia, who helped create the technology, or at least first popularize it, on a massive scale) making such a request, is lost on most.

The shutter opens as the band joins Donokley, the first arrival, onstage as video gears grind away and the crowd joins in on "End Of All Hope". Generally an older crowd than one might expect (but not too surprising, given the setlist), their collective voice is rarely silent throughout the night. Case in point, "Wish I Had An Angel", Hietala pitching in, with Jansen, on vocals. First of the deep cuts unearthed, "10th Man Down" sees the stage bathed in purple, punctuated by strobes. Floor is spotlighted throughout, leading the fans in a fist thrusting exhibition. After a rousing "Come Cover Me", Jansen thanks the crowd for the warm welcome, then kicks into "Gethsemane". From the crowd's point of view, the accompanying video makes it appear as if Kai Hahto's drum kit is travelling through a forest labyrinth. As Emppu goes for a closing guitar run (right foot braced on the wedge monitor), virtual explosions onscreen and sci-fi laser lighting shoots every which way, around the band.

Donockley returns for crowd sung "Elan", especially vocal for the "Come taste the wine" begun chorus. Blue stage lighting, with a wolf, baying at the moon, to start "Sacrament Of Wilderness". The video soon morphs into just two piercing eyes, an extreme close-up, across the bridge of that same wolf's snout. The music tonight is a little more aggressive, dare i say, metallic? Well maybe not the sedate "Dead Boy's Poem", with it's pink cloud formations, Hietala trotting out the double-neck bass and Donockley adding a rhythm guitar. The majestic build-up, with pre-recorded, spoken voice-over pays off in a crescendo of drums and the Wishmaster album artwork emblazoned behind the group.

It's boys only onstage, Hietala employing the use of a small stool to balance the weighty two-neck monstrosity, as they rock out on the instrumental "Elvenjig", right into "Elvenpath", a black obelisk floats onscreen, amongst ice bergs. Between the piped in voice-overs, Jansen hits her best operatic highs, as Emppu visits Tuomas' bunker of keys, on the opposite side of the stage. The speedy "I Want My Tears Back" feels like being in a snow globe, the snow covered evergreens and Christmas card inspired scenery onscreen. Donockley gets a chance to address the crowd and comically seems to be unaware of which city he's in, initially thanking the Hong Kong crowd, only to "correct" himself, mentioning Germany, before introducing "The Carpenter" as an old song, a "Ben Franklin's favorite song, back in 1778". Nice local touch. This too starts all-male, Donockley on vocals, with a mandolin. Floor eventually joins the duet/ballad.

Crimson begun, "The Kinslayer" enlivens things again, an endless parade of lit red votive candles whiz by, onscreen. Hietala takes the place of the original Adam West/Batman sound-alike (recorded) voice-over. The bassist remains alone, to introduce another resurrection, "Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean", Floor taking a sip from Tuomas' wine bottle. A video conflagration partners with nearly constant strobes, meeting the frenetic musical pace. "Nemo" spotlights Vuorinen, cyber imagery onscreen. Short, heavy "Slaying The Dreamer" produces fire onstage, well at least the video variety.

The night ends with a pair of expansive tales. First up, a bouncy, scientist narrated "The Greatest Show On Earth", with a mini movie that includes footage of the cosmos, microscopic images and undersea life (a swimming sea turtle). The symphonic pageantry of the "Ghost Love Score" finale starts with Emppu and Marco facing off against one another, center stage. The video shows leaflets/pages of text falling and eventually tossed into flames. Not too much later, the two are (temporarily) seated on the drum riser. The haunting melody builds, ultimately switching to a triumphant finish, a fitting way to send people on their way, hungry for the next time. However, they can relive many of the best moments (at least with studio renditions), thanks to the aforementioned Decades double CD they received upon entering. A special night, for many reasons. Come back soon!

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