One of my favorite things about living in this area is that I often get to catch bands the first time they play here. Sure, they perform in neighboring states all the time, but the stop in Utah usually gets overlooked until bands catch wind of the large body of fans in the area, not to mention the great venues. In my interview with Simone Simons before the show, she told me that she'd played here before with Kamelot, but never with Epica. I was excited to see their set and to witness the fan reactions to the show.
Needless to say, I was not disappointed. I've never seen Epica before and I was thrilled with the high quality of their performance. Their set began with "Karma" and "Monopoly on Truth" from Requiem for the Indifferent. As the set began, I felt impressed with the Epica captured all the symphonic parts so well with technology rather than with a full orchestra. I've always loved The Classical Conspiracy precisely because of its sweeping sound, its use of a full orchestra. I worried whether Epica would sound as good without an orchestra backing them up. Before the show, Simone told me that the samples available in recording studios are absolutely amazing and that they sound just as good, if not better sometimes, than the real thing. She was right. The grand scale of their studio albums conveys itself effectively on stage with very little lost in translation. Obviously, things are going to be a little different moving from studio to stage, especially on songs like "Monopoly of Truth" with its fantastic blend of things like choral voices and classical instruments. Coen Janssen's synthesizer works overtime to capture all these sounds, but it does so ably and effectively. Indeed, the band was consistently strong all night long, ratcheting up the energy more and more with each song. One of my favorite moments of the night was "Cry for the Moon" with its well-known and catchy chorus. I also loved the encore set of "Chasing the Dragon," "Storm the Sorrow," and "Consign to Oblivion."
I have to point out that Epica is made up of highly talented musicians who really seem to care about giving their very best each night. Everyone knows, I would think, Simone Simons is one of the biggest draws of any Epica performance but she doesn't seem to play the diva. Instead, she conveys a rather smooth charisma, even a kind of relaxed classiness that comes through in the way she performs and the way she carries herself. Moreover, Simone doesn't strike me as a woman who exploits herself or her body to win over her audience. I admired her overall strength and her commitment to the music. Her voice sounded clear and crisp and strong. Toward the end of the set, she accidentally made a false start and apologized for it. At the end of the night, she again asked the audience to forgive her for her little mistakes. No need to ask, Simone. We came to hear you sing and to watch you perform and you never let us down.
Prior to Epica's performance, fans were treated with a rather eclectic range of musical styles. From what I hear, Epica is touring with these bands mostly because of the personal connections they have with them rather than finding bands with similar styles. The strength of such a line-up, of course, is that the audience can't get tired of one style being played all night. Alestorm's set offered listeners a healthy range of their best pirate-infused songs. I don't identify myself as a fan either of Alestorm or of what's coming to be called "pirate metal;" nevertheless, the band played a strong set, rousing fans with their funny introductions that reminded us that their songs are basically about pirates, wenches, beer, and sea monsters. I had to laugh when they introduced the songs "Nancy the Tavern Wench" and "Death Throes of the Terrorsquid." I was impressed with their set as a whole. In my opinion, these guys work as well as they do precisely because of their sense of humor. Can you imagine listening to songs like "Pirate Song" or "Captain Morgan's Revenge" by a band that takes itself too seriously? I also got a kick out of Dani Evans's "The Empire Strikes Back" hoodie that he wore during the soundcheck. Not only does he have classic taste in movies, he's also a very strong guitar player.
Insomnium, by large contrast, played a much more somber set. They hit the stage almost 90 minutes after the doors opened and fans were growing a little impatient. System Divide was supposed to fill some of that time but, for some reason, were unable to play that night. Fans, as a result, shuffled about, chatted with each other, grabbed another drink, or hit the merchandise booth again. When the lights went down, though, and the haunting, echoing, notes of "Inertia" filled up the room, everyone quickly turned their attention to the stage. Even though I hadn't really heard Insomnium until this show, I quickly realized that their melodic approach to death metal is well worth a listen. My favorite song of their set was "One for Sorrow" the title track from their newest album. Toward the end of the show, bassist / singer Niilo Sevanen encouraged everyone to go out and pick up a t-shirt or a CD. As I looked around, though, I noticed that quite a large number of people in the audience were already wearing Insomnium t-shirts.