I must admit that, prior to this show – the third and final one of a sell-out run at London’s legendary (and apparently soon to be demolished) Astoria – I wasn’t looking forward to this Nightwish concert as much as I have the numerous previous occasions I’ve seen the band play. This was for a number of reasons – the fact I’m not such as fan of this kind of music as I was a few years ago, the early reports of new vocalist Annette Olzen that she struggled with the old material, and set lists that were apparently leaning very heavily on the new "Dark Passion Play" album, which whilst good is hardly the highlight in their catalogue. However, the first of these London dates had been getting rave reports, and thankfully these proved to be justified, as Nightwish put on probably the best performance I’ve seen from them thus far.
The reason for this show being stronger than many of their previous ones isn’t hard to pinpoint – Annette may not have the same unique and powerful voice as her predecessor Tarja Turunen (although it is perfectly serviceable), but from the moment she bounds on to the stage, all smiles and arms aloft, its clear what she brings to the party – bags of enthusiasm and energy, a complete contrast to the aloof and sometimes uncomfortable looking figure Tarja cut. Annette’s positive attitude has clearly rubbed off on her bandmates, and this in turn leads to a more visually entertaining and musically powerful performance.
Set-wise, it was fairly predictable its true – the majority of "Dark Passion Play" along with some of the better known and more straightforward and anthemic tracks from the back catalogue – but you can hardly blame the band playing it (relatively) safe on their first major trek with this new line-up, and in general the set worked well, with the new songs coming across better live than in their studio incarnations. Highlights are difficult to pick out as the whole show (bar a couple of the more average DPP songs, "Sahara" and "Whoever Brings The Night") is uniformly strong. The epic "The Poet And The Pendulum" forms a natural centrepiece to the set – it will obviously benefit a great deal if the band ever perform it with an orchestra, but despite the heavy use of samples still comes across as a majestic and epic piece of bombast. Opener "Bye Bye Beautiful" is a good way to start the show, upbeat and energetic from the off, whilst everpresent encore "Wishmaster", with its call and response chorus is a ‘can’t-fail’ live track.
Perhaps the most surprising highlight however comes in the middle of the show. In the past, when Tarja trooped off the stage to rest her voice, the band would toss out a workmanlike Megadeth or Ozzy cover, which rather jarred with the rest of the set. Now however they took the opportunity to showcase two of the more diverse tracks off their new album, both of which worked far better than I imagined they would – the folky ballad "The Islander", with bassist Marco Hietala doing his best Ian Anderson impression, and the upbeat ‘folk-metal jig’ "Last Of The Wilds". Both benefit a great deal from the presence of Troy Donockley on the Uilleann pipes and whistle – a member of Iona and frequent presence on Mostly Autumn albums, Donockley played on the studio versions of these tracks and having him reprise his role here really added the extra dimension the songs needed.
Overall then, something of a triumph for Nightwish, who on this evidence have plenty more life in them yet. There will obviously be greater challenges ahead – such as how Annette deals with the more challenging Tarja-era tracks – but for now it’s a case of ‘job done’. I look forward to seeing how they cope with a festival headlining slot when I see them again at Wacken Open Air in August.
Bye Bye Beautiful
Dark Chest Of Wonders
Whoever Brings The Night
The Poet and The Pendulum
Sacrament Of The Wilderness
Last Of The Wilds
Seven Days To The Wolves
Wish I Had An Angel