By Mark Gromen
Los Angeles, Dusseldorf, Atlanta, Philadelphia, enter Floor Jansen, Orlando and now Manchester, England: the Finns and I have been seeing a lot of each other in 2012, even morseo now that they've added the statuesque former AFTER FOREVER singer, who replaced the ousted Anette Olzon mid-tour. Glorious, early 1900s theater with massive seating-only balcony, the 3,500 capacity Apollo squeezes two-thirds of the crowd into the sardine-packed standing floor. There's a surprising lack of bar space, given this is Britain.
Producer/HYPOCRISY mainman Peter Tagtgren brought his more commercial, hypnotic electronica/dance influenced PAIN to the UK, the guitarist taking the stage in straight jacket, with floor length ties flapping as he played. Under a backdrop for the upcoming We Come In Peace DVD (screw-headed mascot as an astronaut), opener 'Same Old Song' was accompanied by purple flood lights and a lightning storm of strobes. Apart from the Mohawked drummer, the trio of instrumentalists at the front of the stage all sported beards and plenty of flailing/headbanging hair. In the English tradition of liggers and poseurs, the upstairs bar didn't even play the music from the bands onstage! Stopping back for a periodic beverage or two, proved some were cozy and disinterested in the evening's festivities (maybe just bringing their kids to the show? Maybe not.)
Despite hoarse voice, even more than the death metal usual ("Lost it somewhere between here and Stockholm.") Tagtgren introduced 'Dirty Woman' with, "There have been some woman issues (sly reference to the Nightwish situation). I have women issues. Are there any ladies here tonight?" Cue roar. "Do you feel like a dirty woman?" Bigger roar. "This one's for the ladies," as they launch into a staccato, pulsating mid-tempo, with piped-in synth backbeat, the frontman venturing to the front of the stage, ten-to-fifteen feet in front of the monitor set-up. 'The Great Pretender' and a closing 'Shut Your Mouth' were also on tap.
NIGHTWISH ended up performing 100 minutes, longer than the just concluded US dates. Thanks to a re-arranged set (infusion of a few, more lively oldies) and invigorated efforts from all involved, this certainly was a different band than witnessed elsewhere around the globe. No flares, nor pyrotechnics to rely on, as was the case in Germany, just the music and personalities onstage. In a (ahem) floor length military styled overcoat, atop a skirt, Jansen commanded the stage for the opening 'Storytime'. A powerful 'Dark Chest Of Wonders' was up next, followed by bassist/co-vocalist Marco Hietala's introduced 'Wish I Had An Angel', under blood red lights. Hietala was more animated than usual, playing on one knee, other leg outstretched, or joining Jansen near the front of the stage, beyond the monitors.
'Amaranth', which was omitted from last month's Florida show, sees Tuomas Holopainen fortified in his synth bunker (shaped like a melted, post-apocalyptic pipe organ), as guitarist Emppu Vuorinen repeatedly darting around the stage. Children's voices introduces 'Scaretale' to a blue hued, but otherwise unlit stage. This silence and darkness is broken by the spotlit keyboardist and cannonading drums for the speedy tune, eventually joined by Jansen. When not singing, the lanky Dutch woman shimmies, slender and seductive, or outright headbangs, pinwheeling her hair. Marco and Tuomas are under magenta lights for the sing-song circus melody, as Jukka Nevalainen pounds out the beat. A dramatic, abrupt ending leaves everything in the dark, When the lights come up, Marco and Floor are seated on bar stools. "We want to get you in a smokey, relaxed, sensual mood," says Hietala, cracking up Jansen, who laughingly said, "I've got nothing to add."
Thus they begin the jazzy 'Slow, Love Slow', Jukka with brushes on the snare and cymbals, while the absent Vuorinen appears mid-song (introduced by the bassist). The slow moving tune ends with the band backlit in silhouette. Piper Troy Donockley slides into his seat for the romp of 'I Want My Tears Back', yellow, orange and blues highlighting the bouncy Celtic jig as the crowd claps along. Emppu splits his time between shadowing Troy and next to Tuomas' enclave. Seated again, 'The Islander' sees Marco get the audience swaying hands overhead, as both he and Emppu go acoustic. Holopainen dons a top hat, while Nevalainen comes out front of the kit, to do some hand drumming and spontaneous clapping erupts in the crowd.
Jansen offers thanks in her native tongue, as well as one of the few Finnish words she's learned (confided in me backstage she's struggled with language program she'd purchased) prior to the acoustic rendition of 'Nemo', which is more a showcase for the female singer than the Hietala (who switched back to electric bass) dominated 'Islander'. The stage is cleared, everyone returning to their rightful place, and instruments, as a mournful solo from Donockley (in spotlight) is accompanied by the unlit keyboardist. Minus Jansen, the stage party explodes into 'Last Of The Wilds', the Britons clapping to the pumping instrumental. Emppu moves to the opposite side (in front of Tuomas), while Marco goes to the the guitarist's usual place. Troy gets as close to headbanging as a piper can get, playing off the diminutive blond six-stringer.
Four red lights shoot skyward on an otherwise black stage, devoid of anyone, as the pre-recorded intro to 'Planet Hell' kicks in. Floor has changed into a black leather jacket (which was discarded by the next number: 'Ghost River') atop the skirt previously concealed by her overcoat train. White spots and piano see Floor alone onstage to 'Ever Dream', another burst of energy prior to the Gary Moore cover 'Over The Hills And Far Away'. Last time around, it was absent for the set (Olzon had avowed it as one of her favorites), but it proves Donockley another moment to shine. Not sure the older portion of the British crowd enjoyed the Irish influence, but the younger generation has no qualms about embracing Celtic sounds.
The aptly entitled 'Last Ride Of The Day' end the evening, to a rousing ovation and plenty of bows.
More photos from Manchester can be seen here