An unofficial record of sorts may have been set 10 months ago when it comes to the San Antonio concert scene. That’s when Nightwish revealed it would be playing the Aztec Theatre in March 2016, a virtually unheard of case of advance notice that also served as a no-excuses scenario for catching the symphonic metal band in action.
The natives of Finland, fronted by an elegant Dutch dame with an operatic voice who saved the band’s future four years ago, made it well worth the wait Saturday night, treating approximately 1,500 fans to a magical 1-hour, 47-minute performance in support of Endless Forms Most Beautiful.
Floor Jansen, third in a line of female vocalists following Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen for a band celebrating its 20th year, valiantly stepped in for her predecessor in October 2012 nine months into Nightwish’s world tour, debuting on stage in Seattle, as chronicled in the 2013 DVD “Showtime, Storytime” that included a documentary entitled “Please Learn the Setlist in 48 Hours.” Some 3 1/2 years later, Jansen showed the Alamo City why Nightwish made the right choice backed, largely and naturally, by guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, bassist Marco Hietala, keyboardist, chief songwriter and band founder Tuomas Holopainen, Uileann pipes player Troy Donockley and touring drummer Kai Hahto.
Opening with the latest CD’s first track, “Shudder Before the Beautiful,” Nightwish took to the stage after fellow Finnish friends Sonata Arctica and Dutch openers Delain (coverage here), embarking on a 16-song trek that entertained and amazed. The number of tunes was one more than Jansen had to learn in two days when she first sang for the band, but perhaps no less challenging. Nightwish’s passages and lyrics can be complex and thus can’t be pulled off by just anyone. Yet Jansen did it with a flair not often shown by Olzon. Jansen not only sang beautifully and commanded the stage, but she was a windmilling, headbanging machine for most of the night, using her long, flowing hair to her advantage on highlights such as new tune “Weak Fantasy” and the Olzon-era “Last Ride of the Day” (watch SAMME footage of the latter here).
The fact the concert was taking place as the Spurs hosted the 62-6 Golden State Warriors at the AT&T Center was not lost on Jansen who, after the opening number, told the crowd, “We know there’s a big game tonight, but you came out to be with us. And we thank you.” However, the fact that Nightwish was also competing somewhat with a sold-out Deftones concert at the Lone Star Brewery may have been.
No matter. Nightwish delivered the goods throughout the set. A balanced performance featured seven new Jansen-era songs with four additional tunes apiece from each of the two previous vocalists’ stints (see setlist in slideshow). Not to be outdone, however, was Hietala, who sang lead on an “unofficial” Nightwish offering. Hietala, who guest stars on the new CD Ghostlights by Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia (click here for an exclusive interview with Sammet), did the honors on “While Your Lips Are Still Red.” The track was written for the 2007 Finnish film “Lieska” (The Matriarch).
The ballad saw the departure from the stage by Vuorinen while Donockley exchanged his Uileann pipes for the guitar in lieu of Nightwish’s regular lead guitarist. Uileann translates to “elbow” in Gaelic. The pipes do not require blowing into the instrument like standard bagpipes do. Not many bands, of course, have a pipe player, let alone allow him to interact with the crowd. But Donockley did just that upon introducing new tune “My Walden” when he said, “San Antonio translates to St. Anthony. You all knew that. But I bet you didn’t know that St. Anthony was the patron saint of headbanging. It’s true. We’re going to put that to the test with this next song.”
How refreshing to hear a band say something to a crowd it doesn’t say at every gig. Jansen did the same later on by referring to the Spurs-Warriors game again, this time referring to it as the “big basketball match.” That prompted Hietala to ask his singer, “Can I say something? I would choose rock over sports every time.”
For all the unusual timing and circumstances surrounding Jansen’s initial foray into the band in 2012, she wasn’t the newest member of Nightwish on stage. Hahto, known for his time in Wintersun, has filled in for original drummer Jukka Nevalainen since 2014, reportedly due to the latter’s struggles with insomnia. Hahto shined in particular on favorites such as “I Want My Tears Back” and “Ghost Love Score.”
The Aztec may not have afforded Nightwish the full production of pyro and the like. But it proved to be an appropriate setting given the band’s style of music, theatrical presence of its frontwoman and newest tunes heavy on a theme of evolution and the human species. Nightwish’s set truly showcased beautiful forms in more ways than one. With the band firing on all cylinders, it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if the show had been a little more endless as well.
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