On Friday, April 15th, the German symphonic metal act Avantasia played their first ever show in New York City, and their second ever date in the United States in their entire 16 year career. This is a band that headlined the Wacken Open-Air in 2014 to over 80,000 attendees, but despite numerous word tours never having played live in the US, and now they were bringing their show to a 2,500 capacity venue for an intimate evening and three hours of heavy metal. For this momentous occasion, myself and a good friend decided that the only logical thing to do for this show was to get in my car and drive the 360 miles down and back from Pittsburgh to New York City for what was going to be a once in a lifetime event. That said, our day began with seven hours of driving and navigating our way into the biggest city in the country in search of a dream coming true.
We first were just going to scope out the venue and possibly wander around Manhattan, but seeing the dedicated fans already starting to line up and wrap around the building got us thinking that it would be in our best interest to get in line and make some friends. The next two hours were dedicated to meeting those around us, the other crazed fanatics who had traveled from far and wide just for this occasion. It was oddly reminiscent of going to ProgPower USA in that nobody that we talked to, unless they came to the show together, had been from the same place. We talked to people from Connecticut, Columbus, OH, Chicago, IL, and there was even a couple in the crowd holding up a banner saying that they traveled all the way from Seattle just for this. We’re a dedicated lot, us metal heads, to say the least.
Doors opened at seven, and with us being among the first 25-50 or so in the door, we made off immediately towards the merch table. However, it turns out that the rumors that had me scared were true, there would be no merch to purchase. Zero. None whatsoever. They didn’t even set up a table. I had been hearing rumors that they sold out earlier in the week during their show in Anaheim, CA, and that they didn’t even have any for their show in Toronto. Not wanting to believe it until I saw it, we still gave the effort to look, but were sadly disappointed. Not letting the lack of tour shirts ruin the night, we wanted to at least use our early entry to grab a good spot to watch the show and ended up with arguably one of the best spots. There were four levels to watch the show from, the “pit” or lowest floor level, a secondary standing room floor that was elevated up four or so feet about the pit, a seated area behind the second level and a VIP section high above the pit but off to the sides. We posted up against the railing of the second level, almost center stage,right in front of the sound booth, with a completely unobstructed view. I wasn’t going to move for the next four hours.
The band took the stage at 8pm, almost twelve hours after we began our journey, kicking off the show with “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose,” the first single from their newest album, Ghostlights. I called it before the show, but it was the obvious pick, it was the single. Tobi took a moment after the song to address the crowd, telling us what exactly we could expect from the show: “some fast songs, some slow songs, some mid-tempo songs, some new songs, some old songs, some semi-old songs, some semi-new songs, which are the same as the semi-old songs,” and that they would be covering the entire history of the project.
The first few songs were primarily from their latest two releases, which are both phenomenal by the way, but then Tobi addressed the crowd again. This upcoming moment was more powerful that I could have ever expected. He said that he wasn’t going to introduce the song, but rather once the first notes hit, that we would all know what to do. Just as he said, once the song began the room exploded. It was time for “The Scarecrow”‘ If you aren’t familiar with the song, take a listen here. The rest of this review can wait.
A large part of the appeal of Avantasia is their use of guest vocalists on their songs. Tobias Sammet may be ‘the’ frontman and songwriter, but the project would be a pale comparison if it was only him on stage (despite my love for him and his music). They had an amazing group of singers with them for the tour: Jorn Lande (Lande/Allen, Ex-Masterplan), Michael Kiske (Unisonic, Kiske/Somerville, ex-Helloween) Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Herbie Langhans (Sinbreed), Amanda Somerville, Eric Martin, and their guitarist Oliver ‘The Hitman’ Hartmann. They each played a pivotal part in the show, as many Avantasia songs require multiple vocalists, as well as backing vocals. Unfortunately, Bob Catley was unable to make the North and South America shows as his own band, Magnum, is currently on tour throughout Europe.
The band’s stage presence is practically unmatched. Having that many personalities on one stage is enjoyable as-is, but the way that they all interacted with one another was magical. The stage banter was hilarious and engaging, but the way that the vocalists would go back and forth with one-another in the songs for alternating parts was a pleasure to hear and watch. Some of their longer songs, such as “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony” require as many as three or four lead vocalists, as well as backing vocals. Many of the artists that appear on the albums cannot tour with the band, simply because touring to perform one song is unfeasible. These duties were picked up by the artists on the tour, such as Eric Martin singing some of Bob Catley’s parts, as well as Klaus Meine’s (Scorpions) part on “Dying for an Angel.” However, according to Tobi, Bob did not want anybody else to sing his part on “The Story Ain’t Over,” but was willing to concede if Tobi took his spot.
The vocalists in the band usually get all of the credit for this show, but I feel the need to give a shout out to all of the other members on tour with the band. It’s hard enough being a touring musician and playing a headlining set each night, let alone the three-hour long one that Avantasia does. So here’s a shoutout to all of the guys not getting the credit they deserve while we focus on the seven singers, Sacha Paeth (guitar/producer), Oliver Hartmann (guitar), Felix Bohnke (drums), Michael ‘The Keyboard Player’ Rodenberg (keyboard/orchestration), and Andre Neygenfind (bass). Then of course the behind the scenes workers, because having seven vocalists is a nightmare of a task to manage. The sound crew was absolutely on point, sounding flawless within seconds of any vocalist taking the mic. Tobi had a mic die on him mid song, and out shot one of the crew members with a new one within seconds. Everybody who made this show happen deserves praise!
Seeing Avantasia, musically, is similar to seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The musicianship is top-notch, and they have a group of rotating vocalists in the performance that all front their own successful bands and deserve to be playing these level shows on their own. However, unlike TSO, it’s not some gimmicky Christmas show. This was a much nonsense, heavy metal epic. They played three hours, and when they hit 11pm, they told the crowd that unfortunately if they stayed on stage any longer that they would be fined by the venue for playing longer than their allotted time. With such a strong crowd response, they decided to say “screw it” and finish the show off because as Tobi put it, “it’s not your fault that we talked too f***ing much, so we’re going to play the full set and pay the stupid fines.” That is the mark of a true artist, putting the fans first and the money second. They had their paycheck, they played their three hours, they owed us nothing. But, they recognized the fire in our eyes, and desire in our hearts, and reciprocated all of the love that was given, promising that the next time they go on tour that they will be hitting New York City again.
If you missed this show, you made a mistake. This was hands down the greatest live performance by any band that I have ever seen.
The PlayStation Theater is a really nice venue. It’s located right in Times Square, and immediately upon entry you travel down two or three stories under Manhattan. There are PlaySation 4 game consoles in the lobby hooked up to big screen TVs, naturally. The place is immaculately clean. I have never seen a venue that hosts metal shows with a chandelier in the concert room, let alone four. It was strange, but very fitting for the show we were seeing. I’m not sure how I’d feel about seeing Amon Amarth there (who are in fact playing there this week), but I think I could easily get over any apprehensions.
There were rumors going around that they may or may not have been filming some of the dates on the tour for an upcoming DVD/Blu Ray release. *fingers crossed*
If you would like to see the full setlist, it can be viewed here. It also lists the vocalists that took part in each song. There were two or three songs that Tobi did not sing on, including “Wicked Symphony,” where his parts were covered by Eric Martin (who did a fantastic job).
Most bands shy away from their longer songs in a live setting, but Avantasia does no such thing. They played five of their 9+ minute songs, including “The Scarecrow,” “The Wicked Symphony,” “Stargazers,” “The Great Mystery,” and “Let the Storm Descend Upon You.” I suppose they had to fill three hours of show time somehow, I was just very happy that they choose to do a lot of the longer ones.
Seriously though, next time they need to make sure to bring enough merch. Nuclear Blast, get on this. At least stock up your US web store with some shirts that we can buy without having to spend an extra $50 just to import a $30 shirt. I have wanted to get one for years, but it’s financially unfeasible for me to even consider it.