BEST OF AYREON – LIVE
Mascot Label Group
On the 15, 16, and 17 September 2017, three magnificent shows took place at the 013 Poppodium in Tilburg, the Netherlands. That was the chosen weekend when Arjen Lucassen, with the help of 11 talented musicians and 16 incredible singers, brought his 28 best songs to the stage, to the delight of the 9000 people, from 54 countries, who saw the concert live (during the 3 days), and to the delight of many others (myself included) who couldn’t make it to the show, but will be watching it on DVD / Blu-Ray. The Ayreon Universe live extravaganzza is out on 30th March, via Mascot Label Group.
I can only talk in superlatives about this concert, as every aspect of the show, from the massive stage production to the individual performances, is top notch. Everything is just flowing together smoothly, from the visuals that complete the music extremely well, to the interaction between the musicians, and you can clearly see everyone on stage is having the time of their lives. I particularly love to watch co-producer and keyboard player Joost van den Broek as he is constantly smiling, headbanging, and just having a blast.
Michael Mills (dressed as TH1) is the first to enter the stage for the “Prologue” and from the first second he simply steals the show. His mission is to engage the audience and set the mood for what is to follow, and he does it with charisma and charm. As on “The Source”, he becomes the focal point of every song he is in. And his style is so chameleonic, it’s unbelievable – he’s very dramatic in “The Blackboard”, and “The Theory of Everything” (reprising his role as The Father), he’s a lot of fun to watch in “Day sixteen: Loser” (quite possible the most entertaining moment of the concert), and he’s very robotic and distant in “Everybody Dies”, and “Star of Sirrah”. Besides being a versatile singer, he’s also a great entertainer, no wonder he’s the host (you’ll see what I mean).
Abbey of Synn
River of Time
The Theory of Everything
Dawn of a Million Souls
Valley of the Queens
Ride the Comet
Star of Sirrah
Day Sixteen: Loser
And the Druids Turned to Stone
The Two Gates
Into the Black Hole
Age of Shadows
Intergalactic Space Crusaders
The Castle Hall
Amazing Flight in Space
Day Eleven: Love
The Eye of Ra
Edward Reekers has a very soulful and warm voice, and his delivery on the acoustic “Dreamtime” is both emotional and powerful, while his touching performance on “Actual Fantasy” reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s “Come Healing”. With impressive vocals and stage presence, Robert Soeterboek gets things moving with the energetic “Abbey of Synn”, where he is backed up beautifully by ‘Ayreon’s angels’ – Marcela Bovio, Irene Jansen, and Lisette van den Berg. A bit later in the show Edward Reekers and Robert Soeterboek duet beautifully on “Computer Eyes”. Hansi Kürsch and Marco Hietala have two of the most unique voices on the metal scene and their duet on the folky “River of Time” is simply delightful, as neither of them is too overpowering, but instead complete and complement each other superbly. As much as I enjoy this song, I have to say that their best duet happens later in the show, on the up-tempo “Age of Shadows” where their delivery is more powerful and a bit more engaging.
Marcela Bovio (singing Cristina Scabbia’s part as The Mother) puts so much passion in both “The Blackboard”, and “The Theory of Everything”, you can actually feel the pain and sorrow her character is going through, and she manages to outshine Michael Mills with her performance. The polar opposite is her sweet, joyful performance on “Day eleven: Love”, in a lovely duet with Edward Reekers. Dutch wonder Floor Jansen works her magic on “Merlin’s Will” and captures the hearts of the audience with style, and grace. Every time she comes to the stage for a performance she simply kills it, as both her charming vocals and amazing stage presents make those moments unforgettable. Jonas Renkse and Anneke van Giersbergen join forces for two emotional duets, namely “Waking Dreams”, and “Comatose”, making both songs feel like an eternal dance between darkness and light, their vocals balancing and playing off each other superbly. A definite highlight of the show is the low-key, atmospheric “Valley of the Queens”, where the beautiful voices of Anneke, Marcela, and Floor get a chance to really shine and on the last line they sing, goosebumps are assured every time.
John Jaycee Cuijpers takes full command of the stage and energizes the audience with his incredible performances on both “Dawn of a Million Souls”, and “The Two Gates”, where again Marcela, Lisette, and Irene do an amazing job with the backing vocals. For the up-tempo “Ride the Comet”, Jonas Renkse is joined on stage by Maggy Luyten, where her gritty vocals are in stark contrast with his smooth, velvety voice and together with the backing choir, they bring a certain degree of dynamism to the song. Though I am not a big fan of gritty vocals, I highly appreciate Maggy’s dramatic performances on “Star of Sirrah” where she is dueting with Hansi Kürsch, but also her highly energetic and very theatrical delivery on Star One’s “Intergalactic Space Crusaders”, where she shares the stage with Damian Wilson, and I must confess, I highly enjoy the interaction between them. And speaking of Damian Wilson, his soulful and emotional performance on “And the Druids Turned to Stone” make this atmospheric, almost acoustic track another definite highlight of the concert, and one of my favorite moments. I am in absolute awe of Damian’s warm voice and exquisite performance.
Now it is time for the prodigy to take the stage (hope you get that reference) and Tommy Karevik really shows his versatility and wide range on “Into the Black Hole” going from soft singing to a more aggressive and powerful delivery in the second part of the song. He truly made Bruce Dickinson’s song his own, “which is no small feat” (to quote Arjen’s words from the booklet). Another one of my favorite moments of the show is the emotional “Magnetism”, because I just love the interaction between Tommy, Anneke, and Marco – the unhappy trio – as each is playing their part perfectly, toying with the audience’s emotions until the final note. Another highly entertaining duet is the aggressive “Collision” which sees Tommy and Marco reprising their roles from “The Theory of Everything” and coming face to face in a harsh confrontation, where both their vocals are in perfect harmony, balancing each other superby. (I was really looking forward to a live rendition of this song). The energy level is kept up high with “Everybody Dies”, most definite a fan favorite, considering all the vocalists involved. As always Mike Mills’ performance is spectacular, but Tommy and Hansi’s back-and-forth is the backbone of the song, while Maggy and Floor’s deliveries are simply the icing on the cake.
Arjen Lucassen finally makes his appearance and joins the fun, with some groovy guitar riffs and solos on “The Castle Hall”, which is a duet between Robert Soeterboek and Damian Wilson with a very catchy chorus to it, that will have you singing along in no time. Jay van Feggelen takes the stage for another fan favorite, “Amazing Flight in Space”, where Arjen delivers some great guitar work and even some vocals. “Day eleven: Love” and show closer “The Eye of Ra” (with all the singers) are both such entertaining numbers, as they basically invite the audience to sing along to the lyrics. A truly marvelous end to a fantastic concert.
This review could not be complete without mentioning the instrumentalists that provided the rhythmic section, the harmonies, and the grooves. I will start with the lovely Maaike Peterse whose superb cello lines just add tones to the dramatism of such songs as “Magnetism”, or “Comatose”. Ben Mathot’s violin lines bring forth the hidden beauty of such tracks as “River of Time”, “Actual Fantasy”, or “Age of Shadows”. Jeroen Goossens’ flutes and other woodwind instruments add an extra layer of beautiful harmonies on such songs as “Valley of the Queens”, “Day sixteen: Loser”, or “The Castle Hall”. Joost van den Broek’s piano and keys create such a haunting atmosphere it’s Impossible to imagine the songs without them. Case in point: his solo from “The Theory of Everything”, his soundscapes on “Dawn of a Million Souls”, or “Into the Black Hole”, though I guess his best moment is on “Day sixteen: Loser” (you’ll see why). Ed Warby is such a splendid drummer, his grooves and patterns fit the songs perfectly. Johan van Stratum is on bass duty, while Marcel Coenen and Ferry Duijsens man the guitars and the lines, riffs, and solos they deliver are just amazing throughout the show. Hats off to everybody involved! There are a few other surprises that I won’t disclose here to give the fans a chance to discover them for themselves.
Just like his music, the concert has drama, it has humour, it has delicate, gentle moments scattered between the big, epic songs, it has everything to make it as engaging and fun as possible. The progression is also very neat, starting off kind of small and relaxed (“Dreamtime”, “River of Time”, “Waking Dreams”, “Valley of the Queens”), and step-by-step making its way to the big, massive numbers (“Star of Sirrah”, “Into the Black Hole”, “Intergalactic Space Crusaders”, “Everybody Dies”), thus creating a very captivating sonic and visual experience.
Floor Jansen – Nightwish
Damian Wilson – Threshold
Hansi Kürsch – Blind Guardian
Tommy Karevik – Kamelot / Seventh Wonder
Anneke van Giersbergen – Vuur / Gentle Storm
Marco Hietala – Nightwish
Jonas Renkse – Katatonia
Mike Mills – Toehider
Marcela Bovio – ex-Stream of Passion / MaYan
Irene Jansen – Ayreon
Robert Soeterboek – Star One
John Jaycee Cuijpers – Praying Mantis
Edward Reekers – Kayak
Jay van Feggelen – Ayreon
Maggy Luyten – Nightmare
Lisette van den Berg – Scarlet Stories
Ed Warby – Drums
Johan van Stratum – Bass
Marcel Coenen – Lead guitar
Ferry Duijsens – Guitar
Joost van den Broek – Keyboards
Ben Mathot – Violin
Jeroen Goossens – Flutes, woodwinds
Maaike Peterse – Cello
Photo credit to Dorien Goetschalckx Photography
Photos taken by: Tonnie Westerbeke, edit by: World Prog-Nation