Nightwish: Showtime, Storytime

Nightwish - Showtime, StorytimeSynopsis: 2013 live release from the Finnish Symphonic Metal band. Recorded during their live performance at the Wacken Open Air in Wacken, Germany on August 3, 2013. Showtime, Storytime is the first Nightwish production to feature Floor Jansen on vocals. She initially replaced previous vocalist Anette Olzon during their North America tour leg, and on October 9, 2013, it was revealed that she would become an official band member, alongside with Troy Donockley. Showtime, Storytime includes footage from the live show as well as a 120 minute documentary about the first days of Jansen in the band, still as a only live member, and her process of adaptation in the band.

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Nightwish: Showtime, Storytime 8.0

eyelights: Nightwish’s brand of epic, symphonic metal. Floor Jansen’s stage presence.
eyesores: Floor Jansen’s comparably limited range.

Finland’s Nightwish is one of the world’s most popular symphonic metal bands. Founded in 1996, they’ve become the country’s most popular band worldwide, having sold over 8 million copies of their albums (2007’s ‘Dark Passion Play’ alone has chalked up 2 million sales!).

I first became aware of them in the early 2000s, having seen their albums around and hearing about them from some of my work colleagues. But it wasn’t until I saw their latest, 2004’s ‘Once’, in the 2/25$ section of the local HMV that I decided to take the plunge and give them a try.

I was BLOWN away.

Although I didn’t like Tarja Turunen’s singing style (a soprano, she has a classical background), she had quite a range and it was contrasted superbly by the band’s thundering blasts of metal and multi-layered, epic delivery. I played that album like there was no tomorrow.

Soon thereafter, Turunen (who had been with the band since its inception) was turfed by the rest of the band in a messy split. Given her unique and inimitable vocal style, this left the band in a tight spot, and as a fan I wondered how they could ever bounce back from her departure.

They came back in 2007 with a new singer, Anette Olzon (who was picked from 2000 audition tapes), with their greatest opus yet. I listened to ‘Dark Passion Play’ even more than ‘Once’. To me, it took the band to the next level, even though Olzon’s more of a pop vocalist.

In 2011, they released yet another album with Olzon, the Tim Burton-esque ‘Imaginaerum’, which took them through a vast array of musical styles. It was an instant success and it became the blueprint for a 2012 feature-length fantasy musical motion picture.

Unfortunately, halfway through the 2012 Imaginaerum Tour, Nightwish suffered yet another setback when they decided to part ways with Olzon. Also a controversial separation, this left them without a singer until they got Floor Jansen (of After Forever fame) to fill in.

‘Showtime, Storytime’ was recorded at the tail end of that tour, on August 3, 2013, at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany in front of 80,000 people. By that point, Jansen had performed with the rest of the band for eight months and over forty concerts.

Unlike many other concert films, ‘Showtime, Storytime’ at least takes the time to set the stage for its audience, providing us with a text-based intro about the tour and this particular concert – to the sounds of the crowd, then shots of the band, before exploding into its 90-minute+ set.

Nightwish performed on a large festival stage, backed by a huge LCD screen and surrounded by lasers and fire blasts. Although there isn’t much stage dressing, it feels like a high-scale metal show. The first impression one gets is that they are in good form, and spirits: all seem happy, and relaxed.

My next impression was just how unique they look as a group, compared to their peers. The first person I zeroed in on, naturally, was their new singer. She was unfamiliar, lacking Tarja’s glamour. But she is impressive to look at, an Amazon. I was entranced. Damn, those leather-clad hips…

Then there is Marco, on bass. He is a Norse God, with his long blonde mane, double-horned goatee and massive frame. Joining them at the front of the stage was the Paul Simon of metal, Emppu, on guitar. The guy is so small that whenever he crouches or kneels he disappears. But boy can he shred!

The band’s ringmaster is Tuomas, on keyboards, looking very much like Kevin Kline would have looked had he become a metalhead. He was set up behind a monster pipe organ-type set-up, with the pipe-like protrusions extending outwards like stakes or claws. He coolly oversees the proceedings.

Rounding up the group is Jukka, on drums, looking much like an alt-rocker with his backward baseball cap and hair in a ponytail. Supporting the group on tour was Troy Donockley, playing uilleann pipes and/or flute on select numbers. His contributions are significant enough that he is now part of the band.

I listen to a wide range of metal, symphonic and gothic metal and no bands look as distinctive as Nightwish does, for some reason. They are usually all beefy guys with dark hair, or they have a common stage dress. Nightwish stand out from the crowd just at one glance.

But they are also distinctive in their sound. No matter how hard they try, other bands simply can’t match Nightwish’s ability for mixing metal, ethnic, fantasy and motion picture score elements together. This is mostly due to Tuomas, who is chief songwriter providing thematic continuity in the band’s work.

‘Showtime, Storytime’ focused principally on the last three album, beginning with “Dark Chest of Wonders”, the opener for ‘Once’. It didn’t take long to see how well Jansen fit in with the rest of the band: she and Marco work very well together, balancing their vocals on “Wish I Had An Angel” to great effect.

Although Tuomas is the mastermind behind Nightwish, Marco is the Master of Ceremonies. He only joined the band in 2002, but he has taken a central role on their albums, providing a male counterpoint to the female vocals – and as the connector on stage, frequently addressing and working the crowd.

I love his presence, but there was this one intro to a song that he did where he tried to make a joke and it fell flat. Similarly, Jansen blurted out vacuous tripe at the crowd – you know, generica that you hear at all concerts. It makes me cringe to such a degree that I stopped listening to the CD version of this show.

Thankfully, what she lacks in eloquence, she makes up for in stage presence. I had read that Floor was a much better metal singer than Tarja and Anette, a better middle ground for the band. She proves it in her performance, rocking that stage, owning it, and changing styles effortlessly – she adapts well.

Unfortunately, for all her versatility, her vocal limitations were in full display: Floor can’t hit the high notes that her predecessors could. The prime example was “Ghost Love Score”, which was designed to showcase Tarja’s abilities: Jansen had to sing in a different key and stop halfway through some parts.

Conversely, some songs played better live, with Jansen on vocals. In particular, “Nemo”, which is hooky but always felt too saccharine for my taste, had much more punch with her there. There was also “Song of Myself” which was much better suited to Jansen’s vocal style and which I quite enjoyed.

Aside for Jansen’s vocal range, my biggest criticism is that they played some of the songs a bit slower than on album (perhaps to accommodate her?), and that synthesized choirs and orchestras are a poor substitute for the real thing. This is where their studio ambition shows its limitations.

Otherwise, this was a rock solid set through and through:

1. Dark Chest of Wonders 7.75
2. Wish I Had An Angel 8.0
3. She is My Sin 7.0
4. Ghost River 8.0
5. Ever Dream 8.0
6. Storytime 8.0
7. I Want My Tears Back 8.0
8. Nemo 8.0
9. Last of the Wilds 8.25
10. Bless the Child 8.0
11. Romanticide 8.25
12. Amaranth 8.0
13. Ghost Love Score 8.0 (but should be a 9.0)
14. Song of Myself 8.25
15. Last Ride of the Day 8.0

The set closes with the instrumental outro from ‘Imaginaerum’. The end credits rolled as Nightwish came out and thanked the crowd, took a bow and some pictures – one of which appears to be the cover of ‘Showtime, Storytime’. It was the end of a superb evening and performance by the band.

Disc One – Extras
But it was certainly not the end of programme. Along with the show, there were two additional performances on the disc (which unlike the main act, were only in PCM 2.0, not in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1):

1. I Want My Tears Back: Recorded in Helsinki, on November 10, 2012, this concert was followed by the world premiere of the ‘Imaginaerum’ movie. What’s impressive in this performance is that they had a violinist on stage for this one and the drums come out heavier. Otherwise it looks much like the one in the main show. 8.0

2. Ghost Love Score: This performance was filmed in Buenos Aires, either on December 14 or 15 of 2012 (it’s not indicated on the disc). It’s inside Teatro Flores, a large amphitheatre-like concert hall with an extra level. I like this performance better because Floor got the vocals down more, even though she still couldn’t hit the highs at the end. It is also notable because the crowd sang along to the guitar bridge and because the whole band left the stage during the lengthy synth passage – then came back for the finale. I got chills during this one, even if it was still imperfect. 8.25

Disc Two – Documentary
‘Showtime, Storytime’ also comes with a second disc, featuring a full-length, two-hour documentary on the band’s Imaginaerum tour. Cheekily named “Please Learn the Setlist in 48 Hours”, it takes us to the 2012 shows that led to Olzon being fired and Floor hired, and then all the way through the tour.

Based on what we’re seeing here, I really wish that they had filmed some of the earlier parts of the tour: they had devised a burlesque-type spectacle for this tour, (one of) the biggest production that ever came out of Finland. It looked breathtaking! Tuomas said that fans were transfixed by the show.

What’s interesting is that Anette Olzon requested that, in light of how they relationship ended, she not be seen or heard on this documentary. Her absence is  felt throughout because the band is shown as a quartet with no singer – most of the concert footage is instrumental or with Marco at the mic.

This probably accounts for ‘Showtime, Storytime’ being filmed at the end of the tour: not only couldn’t they use the earlier footage with Anette, but then they had to break in a new singer. And, from what we could see here, their stage show changed depending on the venue (the August 3 show was at a festival).

Also likely due to Anette’s absence, we get no sense of the tension that’s building behind the scenes. In fact, the band apparently seemed rather optimistic at first. I don’t know if they left the drama on the cutting room floor out of respect or for legal reasons, but you only hear that it’s been rough after the fact.

I loved seeing the show Anette missed due to illness, on September 28, 2012, at the last minute, which forced the band to ask the audience to vote: either they cancelled the gig, or they carried on with the two singers from opening act Kamelot, Marco, and audience participation. The crowd cheered for the latter.

I got a bit emotional seeing Alissa and Elize fill in with less than an hour to prep. Talk about coming through for the greater good: everyone downloaded songs on their phones, printed lyrics, worked as a team to get them ready for the set, which they adapted based on the songs they already knew or could learn.

The show itself was strange to look at, because the pair arrived on stage with lyrics sheets, which they naturally had to use – something you wouldn’t usually see. But they took turns on vocals, which liberated at least one of them to rock it out with the band. I would have loved to see more of this set.

Anette made it to the next gig, despite her illness, but apparently the die was already cast: between the two gigs, the band had been thinking about how they could possibly continue the tour without her. Combined with the alleged problems that were boiling to the surface, they decided to part with her after this show.

The rest, as they say, is history: Floor was offered a fill-in gig and she flew in right away, learning all the songs in time for their next show, on October 1, 2012. Apparently, it was a hit-and-miss affair (understandably so), but they loved her vibe and they learned to work together quickly. She stayed on.

One year later, on October 9, 2013, Floor was announced as the band’s new vocalist.

I enjoyed watching the documentary, but I must say that the best parts were around the Anette drama. The rest was pretty much your average tour doc material: a checklist of tour dates and banal behind-the-scenes material that we’ve seen countless times before with different faces in different places. Meh. 7.0

Disc Two – Extras
1. Nightwish Table Hockey Tournament: This is a 16-minute play-by-play of a table hockey match the guys had one night, under the influence of alcohol. It looks fairly professional, with each player’s profile shown before each match and nice graphics. But the cheeky play-by-play is in Finnish and it’s rapid-fire, so reading the subtitles takes you away from the action. In fact, you don’t get to see much because you’re always reading. It’s a tosser. 4.5

2. Christmas Song for a Lonely Documentarist: This is a tongue-in-cheek Christmas song that Marco wrote as a tribute to documentary’s director. It’s loose and the lyrics don’t make sense, but the melody is decent and it’s well cobbled together. Plus which the four minutes are spent looking at a gallery of tour pictures, many of which show a new angle on the tour footage we’d seen during the documentary itself. So it’s not all bad, if disposable. 6.5

Despite a surprisingly timid audio track during the concert (I had to jack it pretty high), and the concerns listed above, I really enjoyed watching ‘Showtime, Storytime’ and its many supplements. It was interesting to see this new chapter in Nightwish’s history unfold before our eyes this way.

I very much look forward to seeing what the band will do next. With an entirely different type of vocalist on board, this will no doubt affect their sound and image considerably. Will they go for a heftier, less poppy sound in the future? That is my prediction. But, with Nightwish, you can never tell.

They are always full of surprises. Only they know what the next chapter in this story is going to be.

Dates of viewings: December 4 + 13, 2014

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2 responses to “Nightwish: Showtime, Storytime

  1. I think the person who wrote this review is a Tarjaholic who is just fooling himself? Floor owns Ghost Love Score and no attempt to smear her is going to change that. Tarja couldn’t do Floors ending if she had help. Hey, some people can’t handle change and are particularly bitter when the new person is superior to there heroines but life goes on. Floor is the present and future of Nightwish. Tarja, with her terribly wide vibrato and Finglish, is a very old memory that should be left in the past. Just deal with it.

    • Actually, Dave, I’m not a fan of Tarja; I couldn’t quite adjust to her style, although it’s original.

      So this is not a smear whatsoever.

      This is just a personal assessment. There’s no need for personal attacks just because you disagree.

      Clearly you’re a fan of Floor’s. But being a fan doesn’t mean being uncritical. Nobody’s perfect.

      Regards,
      The Thorn

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