Within Temptation & After Forever
July 22nd 2005
Java Eiland, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Normally when I holiday in Amsterdam, the last night is usually a bit of a downer, but this time round I had the prospect of a gig by Within Temptation. Although comparatively unknown back in Blighty, I had been trying to see them live for some time, having initially been attracted by the backing voices of Sharon den Adel and Floor Jansen on Ayreon's Electric Castle and Star One albums, and then discovering Within Temptation and After Forever on subsequent shopping trips. The prospect of seeing both bands on the same night, when we were actually going to be on holiday seemed too good to be true.
However, on the night, it wasn't looking too clever, with ominous black clouds rolling across the harbour towards the open-air venue, a long hike on foot from Centraal Station, and then being asked to give up our (plastic) water bottle before going through the gate. I had wondered how a European show might differ from a UK one, but wasn't surprised to see that some things are universal, like having to buy over-priced grub inside the venue.
Still, minor grumbles aside, I was very impressed at how friendly everyone was, and the broad cross-section of fans and families. The vibe was much more relaxed than I was used to, with no pushing or shoving, just people being nice to one another. In fact, one guy from Sweden even stopped me to tell me how much he appreciated my loud tie-dye Yes t-shirt in the midst of overwhelming goth attire; if I'd tried wearing it at home I'd probably have been stoned! (If the bloke in question is reading this, could he post a message on the forum so that I can get in touch.)
With the main stage being set up for the headliners, After Forever's set was in one of the tents, and with no announcement I nearly missed them. Unfortunately I was too late to get inside as a sizable crowd had gathered outside, so I didn't see much other than the backs of heads. But it sounded great, and far better than the studio albums. My Pledge Of Allegiance in particular came across well. On the few occasions I glimpsed the stage, the band looked like they were really going for it, launching themselves from one side to the other, guitars up in the air, while Floor Jansen worked the audience, enticing and seducing them in equal measure. The band confidently threw in a couple of not-yet-released numbers, and Sharon from WT joined them for Beyond Me, which only added to sense of 'an event' rather than just another festival.
After AF's all-too-short set I was all fired up for the headliners, and it certainly started well. A stunning set built on a huge stage came to life as the lights went up and the intro to Deceiver Of Fools began, but as soon as the band kicked in with the guitars the sound seemed to blow all over the place. To be fair we were a good distance back, so we may not have been in the best spot, but the sound was pretty inconsistent throughout the show. The pre-programmed pieces sounded fine, but the guitars seemed to overwhelm the mix at times and the result was muffled distortion. Just as well then, that Sharon's vocals rang out clearly above the band and helped to keep songs in focus.
As the set progressed, the visuals became ever more spectacular, and I don't think I've ever seen so much pyro at a gig (including Cozy Powell's infamous 1812 drum solo!). Whatever reservations we might have had about the music, the band certainly gave us plenty of bang for our bucks. The overhead screen was put to good use early on by showing the videos to accompany the singles, but after that, the projectionists seemed happy just to show mundane shots of landscapes. A wasted opportunity really, because when they did show footage of the band, the excitement level seemed to increase, but it didn't happen often enough, and that's where the disappointment set in.
Too many of the songs began to sound the same, and with no guitar or keyboard solos, we never felt that the band were in danger of breaking out and bringing an edge to their performance. Now, fair play to them, they've hit on a winning formula and were giving the majority of the audience what they wanted, but there was hardly any interaction between band and crowd in between songs. That, plus the inevitable gaps while Sharon nipped out to swap dresses, knackered the momentum and made things drag, so that by the time they got to more familiar material it was almost a relief.
But there were occasions where song and spectacle worked brilliantly, notably Caged with Sharon rising from below the stage in a... cage... and singing the entire song hung out above the crowd. Ice Queen was also impressive with the combination of cold blue lighting and dry ice being funnelled in jets upwards to the sky. Mother Earth was a rousing end to the main set, and yes, the inflatable forest was pumped up amid more fire and pyro.
The encores saw the appearance of George from Orphanage to produce the requisite growly vocals in contrast to Sharon's singing, and I couldn't stop laughing at my wife's reaction as she'd never heard 'grunts' before. But three songs in and even I was getting a sore throat just listening to him. In hindsight, perhaps one or two of these songs should have come midway through the set to provide a contrast, and save the more upbeat numbers for the encore. Predictably, Ice Queen was the last song but it made for a satisfying ending.
In all fairness, if there was one time that I would have chosen to see Within Temptation it would have been this gig, and it was truly spectacular, with the ambitious visuals matching the band's big sound. I just wish the set-list had been more adventurous and taken a few chances in the way that After Forever's support slot had. If After Forever were the double espresso shot, then Within Temptation were the frothy latte.
Deceiver of fools
Stand my ground
It's the fear
Towards the end
See Who I Am
Running Up That Hill
The Other Half