By Mark Gromen
It began at Universal Studios, in California, last January and concluded outside Disney World, across the continent, in Orlando (on October 14th). Despite the amusement park locales, the members of NIGHTWISH would certainly not characterize the Imaginerum US tour as magical ("Bit of a survival tour," said founder/keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, prior to the gig). In fact, the nightmarish scenario (scaretale?), of dismissing singer Anette Olzon mid-stream (replaced on-the-fly by former AFTER FOREVER/ REVAMP vocalist Floor Jansen), launched a roller coaster ride to rival any found within those family friendly parks, or the one in a fantasy film based on their most recent studio album. NASCAR would be proud, retread and keep racing at high speed!
This was my sixth Nightwish show this year and apart from the pyro-laden spectacle, in a filled German hockey arena, it was easily the most vibrant. Much of that has to do with Jansen's stage presence (and renewed spirits from the guys). It's obvious that she's a rocker. At her best, the departed Olzon had a perky playfulness (sadly missing of late). Few in North America got to see the band with original singer Tarja Turunen, but her opera background instilled a commanding aura onstage. Part cheerleader, sultry vixen and headbanger, Jansen's movements never seem forced. She could be excused for a static choreographed performance, but it never materializes. When the music warrants, Floor offers pinwheeling hair or fists in the air. Given she's only been in the band a couple of weeks, the fit is amazing. Can't wait to see what comes from protracted rehearsals.
Early Sunday evening at the House Of Blues in Downtown Disney, the collective of adult eating/drinking establishments outside the gates of the nearby Magic Kingdom, doors opening at 6pm and Florida natives KAMELOT onstage an hour later. Upstairs, in the nearly 2000 standing room-only capacity wooden theater, the Finns and crew members (apart from guitarist Emppu Vuorinen) are hunched around a table littered with one dollar bills, "gambling" with a set of poker dice. No one is going to amass a fortune, nor will anyone become destitute with such minimal stakes. Rolling a Royal Flush elicits everyone breaking into the Indiana Jones theme! It's more a way to while away the hours and bond with one another, pre-show. Four unopened bottles of Layer Cake Shiraz are on the catering table, along with sandwich fixings, tortilla chips and salsa, bottled water and a couple of Coronas. Party mode is reserved for afterwards.
The merch table (offering $10, end-of-tour discounted T-shirts) was more crowded than some shows I've attended, the line snaking down the stairs. Not sure which screams of pleasure were louder, the Disney bound tots aboard the flight down to Orlando, or the squeals from the front row, each intent on seeing their favorite characters. The audience was absolutely bonkers, from the get-go! Virtually a hometown gig for Kamelot, they stroll onstage as the intro rolls, drummer Casey Grillo hammering his fists down on the cymbals to emphasize the emotions pumping through the band. The new line-up, is punctuated by singer Tommy Karevik (SEVENTH WONDER), who displayed his humorous side this evening, cracking jokes on more than one occasion, to the delight of a rabid audience. 'Rule The World' opened, followed quickly by 'Ghost Opera'. Mostly red, the lights improved for 'The Human Stain', once we photographers left. With a trio of birthdays in the past week, the House Of Blues sang "Happy Birthday' to Grillo, bassist Sean Tibbetts and back-up singer Elize Ryd (AMARANTHE). The blue hued 'Sacrimony', which everyone would be able to purchase, a few days later (on Silverthorn), featured three singers: Karevik, Ryd and the death metal growls of Alissa White-Gluz. Storming through their allotted 45 minutes, Karevik often sang from a crouch, at the front of the stage, getting as close to his public as possible. Well, not really, as 'Forever' began with the vocalist in the photo pit, singing from the rail. Purple, accented by strobes, the crowd thrust hands skyward, Oliver Palotai (keys) and corn rolled Tibbetts hair flailing before Karevik got everyone to sing along ("whoa whoa"). Then he punched out the titular rhythm on Thom Youngblood's fretboard. Finished, the guitarist gave him a pick, which the singer deposited into the crowd. A "Kamelot" chant broke out, Karevik blowing kisses to the crowd. Two winged, snare drumming females kicked off the blood red lit 'March Of Mephisto', their finale, much to the chagrin of the crowd ("We want one more!"). As they took their final bows, Thom held his young son in his arms. Now they start a headlining tour of their own. The band is hot: Kamelot have never been better onstage!
Stunning, given the 11th hour drafting, but in the Internet age, when everyone's a critic, that there really hasn't been any negative commentary about Floor Jansen's performances. Speaks volumes to her professionalism. In addition to a new front woman, the song selection (mixed throughout the tour) is stronger, including older favorites 'Dark Chest Of Wonders' and 'Ever Dream' in the early portion of the set, bookending the similarly lively 'Wish I Had An Angel' and Amaranth'. Since his joining the band, Marco Hietala has done a major portion of the speaking to the audience. Will be interesting to see if this continues with Jansen aboard, she more used to fronting a band on her own than either of her predecessors.
A deafening roar greeted Holopainen's entrance, dwarfed only by the Amazonian Jansen stepping onstage, in red pleated mini-skirt and sleeveless black top, a cape/train from the waist down. She towers over the affable diminutive guitarist Vuorinen ("She's like two of me," he tells me afterwards, smiling the whole time, unfazed by the situation). Surprise, 'Dark Chest Of Wonders' followed the opening 'Storytime'. The leggy singer justified with broad grin upon completing the high vocal acrobatics. Hietala referenced the line-up change, adding that Jansen is their angel. Cue, 'Wish I Had An Angel.' 'Ever Dream' started with Jansen alone, center stage, as the keyboard accompaniment kicked in. When the side-to-side shake of the head doesn't send the hair flopping across her shoulders, Jansen musses her 'do by running fingers through her bangs.
Time for bar stools onstage, for the subdued, jazz lounge 'Slow Love Slow'. As a thunderous applause ends the unexpected hit, piper Troy Donockley slides into a newly appearing chair for 'I Want My Tears Back', with band and fans clapping their hands overhead. The high back stools return, Jukka Nevalainen vacating his place by moving in front of the kit, to hand drum a rhythm box for 'The Islander' and acoustic rendition of 'Nemo'. Holopainen donning a top hat and Donockley opting for a tin/penny whistle for the later, which actually needed no vocals at all, the crowd singing it from start to finish. A short, spotlit solo for Donockley leads into 'Last Of The Wilds', the blue lighted instrumental featured a bombastic bottom end.
Jansen stalks the stage, commanding your attention. Never butch, at the right moments she can also be demure. She's entirely comfortable (confident) having the eyes of the audience on her, whether surrounded by bandmates or solo. Never really felt that was the case with Anette (still not enough interaction between them, although Emppu playfully taps her on the shoulder as passes behind her, causing Floor to look the wrong way). Anette never really hung out with the guys, like Floor was doing with the pre-gig dice game. Then again, five years down the line will Jansen be doing the same?
All the musicians leave the stage, which goes red, for the intro to 'Planet Hell', Jansen pinwheeling her hair once more. 'Ghost River' and 'Song Of Myself' follow. There's no encore tonight, simply ending with the appropriately entitled 'Last Ride Of The Day', Floor reminding everyone this is the final night of the tour. During the song, all the members of Kamelot come onstage. Their trio of singer, armed with an extra microphone, join Marco and Floor. The final bow is a mixing of the two bands, arm-in-arm, hugs, handshakes and celebratory drinks are exchanged, to yet more wild roars from those who witnessed it.
Glad I can say I was among them!
More photos from Florida can be seen here
And now Nightwish are officially on "holiday" as a new band update from today reads: "We've settled down here in Florida for a while to have our vacation. This is what we wanted to tell you after North American tour: Thank you! Good times, intense shows and lots of laughter and love. They'll keep us going for a long time, and there's even more to come. Let's recharge and bring our particular heaven and hell to UK soon! Cheerio!"