I've always known that Nightwish was popular and that they enjoy unprecedented success around the world. Crazy as it sounds, though, I never understood the depth of this popularity until the afternoon of their stop in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, I realize that Salt Lake City is probably not the hub for all things Nightwish, but many people know that this is the place where Annette Olzon performed with the band for the last time. As Tuomas Holopainen explained to me in an interview, Salt Lake is now an historic city not only for its rich heritage, but also for the band. As for me, I'm glad they came back—I'm sure the memories of that night are quite mixed, to say the least.
I arrived at the venue (a place called In the Venue) about 4 hours before doors so I could interview Tuomas (for the transcript of the interview, see the link on the home page). There were already people lining up to get in—and not all of them were there for the pre-show meet-and-greet. Some fans were dressed up to look like Tuomas—sporting things like top hats, goatees, and eyeliner. Several women were dressed in outfits that are probably best described as Gothic. After my interview, I noticed that the line had grown even longer. Finally, about 30 minutes before the doors were supposed to open, the line extended down several city blocks. Once I found my way inside, the audience was packed in so tightly that there was hardly any room to move. I've been to crowded shows before, but this was easy the most tightly packed audience I've ever seen. Between sets, some audience members actually sat in the same spots in which they were previously standing. At one point, I actually had to step over some of these folks to get to where I was going. One audience member yelled at me, saying that I couldn't get by because there was simply no way to budge one way or another. I finally sandwiched myself into a spot and prepared to enjoy the show.
The evening began with a short but energetic set from Delain, a Dutch symphonic metal band with four full-length albums under their belts. Their set was mostly made up of material from their 2012 release, We Are the Others, although they also played "Army of Dolls" and "Stardust" from their 2014 album, The Human Contradiction. The band sounded especially strong on "Get the Devil Out of Me," and "We Are the Others," the latter also the band's closing song. Delain is less heavy than other symphonic metal bands, but they are adept at creating songs that appeal to audiences. Their music often deals with themes of recognizing the common good in human beings and not labeling or disapproving in all the quick and easy ways human beings tend to do. I was especially impressed with Charlotte Wesssels' overall energy and passion throughout the band's set. She has an obvious talent for performance and does an excellent job of bringing the audience into things. She also has a good voice. I don't know how well people know Delain's music around here, but there were a few people sporting the band's t-shirts in the audience. Many also sang along with "We Are the Others."
Sabaton also played a relatively short set, but it was also consistently strong. Sabaton is a much heavier band than Delain. As many know, their music regularly focuses on themes of war. When the band took the stage, the audience went nuts. As I mentioned above about Nightwish, I had no idea how popular Sabaton was, especially here. When the band took the stage, they were welcomed like heroes. The cheers were so long and so loud that Joakim Brodén, the band's singer, had to take a moment to point out that he was getting goose bumps. In fact, there were several times throughout the band's set when he would pause to exclaim how happy he was to see such a strong turnout for a supporting act on a weeknight for a concert that also had a pretty early start. I have a feeling this band will come back to Utah regularly.
One of the sweetest parts of Sabaton's set occurred when a little girl threw a rolled up piece of paper and threw it onto the stage. Instead of ignoring it, Joakim joked about receiving some unexpected mail, an in such an unexpected way. He carefully opened the note and read it to the audience. The message was simple: it read, "Sabaton, you are awesome." He then invited the girl onto the stage to hang out with the band for a couple of songs. She even held a guitar pick for one of the guitarists while he played through a solo. Joakim then took off his trademark sunglasses and handed them to the girl, explaining that everyone needs a souvenir from a Sabaton show. It was actually pretty cute exchange; I'm sure that little girl won't soon forget her experience.
As I turn to Nightwish's set, I have to pause to comment on a problem. Nightwish is one of the biggest symphonic metal bands in the world. As I write this, I'm watching footage from the End of an Era show. As those who have seen this recording know, it is larger than life, full of energy and passion, the kind of show that Nightwish fans have come to expect. It was also the last time Tarja performed with the band. It was a triumphant set. Similar things could be said about the work recorded (and performed) with Annette. My point is that each era of Nightwish has its strengths and weaknesses and that fans of the band have very strong opinions about every facet of the band's storied career. My problem is that I am sure to get something wrong or ruffle a few feathers no matter what I write. After my interview with Tuomas, I actually mentioned something about this to him; he responded by saying that he's glad to have such dedicated fans, people so dedicated to that band that no matter what Nightwish does there is sure to be a strong reaction. I think he's right. Better to get a strong reaction than a shrug.
So here's the problem: I never really had much of a stake in such debates. The first Nightwish album I bought was Dark Passion Play, the first to feature Annette Olzon. That album sold very well and remains a popular release. I liked it well enough; I also like the new album quite well. Now that we are in a new period for Nightwish, though, people are sure to have plenty to say about Floor and what she brings to the new material (as well as to the old favorites). I could kick myself for not going to the last Nightwish show to feature Olzon (it was here in Salt Lake City, after all), but I simply couldn't make it that night.
With all that out of the way, here are a few comments about the show. The band played a long set, mostly drawn from Endless Forms Most Beautiful, though there was a smattering of material from other albums. I was especially surprised to hear "Stargazers," a song the band has not played for quite a long time. Floor actually introduced the song by saying it was one of those tracks fans come to shows hoping to hear but never do. She handled the material well enough. Floor's strength is that she really doesn't try to be either one of the band's other singers. I find her stage presence to be somewhat less flamboyant than Tarja's was, but what she may lack in that area, she makes up for it with a convincing combination of grace and toughness. She has a strong voice, one that carries with it plenty of power and charisma. Those who have heard Floor perform "Storytime" may even agree with me that she performs it in ways that make it even more powerful. She brings more overall power to that song and plays it like she means every word. She seems like a good choice for this next phase of Nightwish's career.
The new material sounded especially good. The band played eight tracks from Endless Forms Most Beautiful. I was especially impressed with "Shudder Before the Beautiful," "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," "My Walden," and "Élan." The band also played "Alpenglow" live for the first time. Though the evening was heavy on new material, it all sounded great. The band is entering into a new era and they are obviously motivated by positive energy. Some of the performances, "My Walden," for one, also featured some excellent work by Uilleann pipist Troy Donockley. He is a known figure to long-term Nightwish fans, but as a now-permanent member, he gets even more time to show off what he does best.
What else can I say? Many of our readers have more experience with Nightwish than I do. Some will likely have seen the band at every phase of their career. I have not had that experience. What I do know, however, is that if anyone thinks this band has peaked or that they have nothing new to say, I'd recommend spending an evening listening to them performing the new material. The band is in good form and seems destined to carry on towards an even brighter future.
Reviewed by Carl Sederholm