REVIEW: Volbeat/Nightwish @ The Nokia 5/2/09

I went into the Nokia this past Saturday night hoping to confirm a few things.

1) I wanted to know if Volbeat, a new powerhouse of spins on WSOU, could support their new found success at WSOU with a good live show

2)if Nightwish could sound as good live as they do on their albums (since you can't fit a symphony orchestra onstage, I was a bit concerned).

3) if Anette Olzen could pull off old Nightwish tunes that Tarja so dominatingly wrote to showcase her operatic skills.

I think I came away from the show with relatively positive responses to all of those questions. This show rocked.

Volbeat opened with a really short set. Mike rocked a pompadour that was somewhere between Elvis and Morrissey (take your pick). Now I know where they got their epic Elvis-Skull-on-Wings logo. Mike was also very sick, and he made it known in his humorous breaks from playing. The band's personality really comes through onstage -- you can tell they have fun doing what they do. They dished on Amy Winehouse, they craftily deflected Slayer requests from the audience, and Mike even cheekily dished on Nightwish when he said "You don't f***ing cancel when you're in New York!", alluding to Nightwish's unfortunate cancellation last September due to Anette's loss of voice.

I think they only played 7-8 songs, but they included some of their biggest hits: "Radio Girl", "A Moment Forever", "Sad Man's Tongue", and "Mr. & Mrs. Ness". The devil horns quotient wasn't very high -- I think that people really haven't gotten full exposure to these guys. However, a few lighters (not phones) did pop up, and "Mr. & Mrs. Ness" got some jump action from the crowd.

Their groove and sometimes rockabilly sound is quite versatile. Honestly, I think they could open up for all sorts of acts until they get some more exposure, then they need to start headlining.

Moving onto Nightwish:

Their opening was awesome. Guest musician Troy Donockley played Sibelius' "Finlandia" on the Uilleann pipes in a bolero fashion as each band member came out one by one. Once they all got out, they drove straight into "7 Days to the Wolves", which was powerful, but felt a little rough. The band's stage presence was a little off. Annette's new look (Blonde hair, a dress that looked like an ill-fitting newspaper) and her stage moves (bad air guitar, lots of fist pumping into the air) just felt off. Whereas Tarja pretty much stood in place and let the band work around her, Anette is the polar opposite - she's prancing around stage, almost too much though. To add to the roughness of their stage presence, Marco and Erno seemed to have a hard time figuring out where to place themselves onstage, often scurrying back and forth and tapping each other on the shoulder telling them when they needed to move. It was as if half of their duo was consistently forgetting some sort of choreography they had planned on doing.

A few songs in, their stage presence evened out, and their music quality went up. "The Siren" showed Anette is more than capable of performing vocals written for the much more operatic Tarja. A few songs later, "Higher than Hope" further proved this. The song was dedicated to a friend of the band who died 6 years ago that day, and the performance was worthy of dedication - I think it was the best song of the night.

Of course, "The Poet and the Pendulum" was played, and it was serviceable, but there were higher points. Like I said, "Higher than Hope" was up there, but also the two-song set of "The Islander" and "Last of the Wilds" with Troy on the pipes again was a showstopper. I have not seen that many lighters in a venue, indoor or outdoor, in a long while. These two songs, when contrasted with "Romanticide", "Dead to the World" and their disco-metal-thump encore "I Wish I Had and Angel" show that this band is versatile in their sound, a lot of which can be chalked up to Tuomas, their principal songwriter.

The last song of their main set was "Dark Chest of Wonders", which answered my third question - Anette is worthy and capable of singing Tarja-geared vocals. They sound different, don't get me wrong. Anette is NOT an opera singer. But I think "Dark Chest..." is, oddly, Tarja's unexpected gift to her successor. Tarja always sounded like she was phoning it in on that song (album and live). Anette, who trended upward in enthusiasm and vocal quality as the show progressed, went out on a high note, singing it better than Tarja ever had. The song just seems more geared toward Anette than it ever was toward Tarja. A fantastic way to end the show.

While their overall sound is versatile, one thing jumped out at me during Nightwish's mid-set performance of "Nemo" - Anette started to improvise. I think her voice had gotten tired by then and she sang some parts as a sort of counter-harmony, and then at the end she broke down the melody into something new entirely. I realized that for most of their set that they hadn't done this yet. Now, some bands use the stage to mix up their tracks, while other play their tracks pretty much straight like the album cuts. Nightwish falls into the second category squarely. There's nothing wrong with that, because what's on the album is multi-layered and meaty to begin with. It's good to know that their sound translates perfectly to the stage, and maintains all of the energy it has on the record (example: my heart raced when Anette jumped back in after the mid-song instrumental breakdown of "7 Days...") But there wasn't a crazy, extended drum or guitar solo anywhere to be found in this show. It was quite straightforward, which was only slightly disappointing. Maybe I was hoping for too much and my bar was set too high though.

Nightwish set list:

Intro - Finlandia
7 Days to the Wolves
Dead to the World
The Siren
Higher than Hope
Poet and the Pendulum (complete)
The Islander
Last of the Wilds
Dark Chest of Wonders

Encore: I Wish I Had an Angel

In conclusion, this was a fantastic two-band billing at a fantastic venue. I wasn't feeling very well that night so I sat in seats at the back. I took it all in while nursing a bad case of something-that-wasn't-Swine-Flu, yet I still felt like I was a part of the action where I was sitting. Volbeat got the crowd's blood pumping, and probably surprised everyone who hadn't heard of them before. Nightwish played a more-than-solid set overall, even after a rocky start. Both groups were very personable with the audience (Marco had some especially hilarious introductions to songs, including setting the scene for "Romanticide" by making the audience picture a farting husband and his unshaven wife) and just generally seemed like they wanted to be there.

So, to loop back and answer my three starting points:

1) Volbeat can hold their own onstage. They could probably have done even better if Mike wasn't sick.

2) Nightwish sounds great live. The whole group appeared to need a song or two to get into form (both physically and musically) but once they were on-point they were fantastic.

3) Anette's vocals were solid overall and she sang the old Nightwish material just as well as the new. Her vocals outclasses her goofy stage presence.


HIGHS: Both acts were great with audience, "A Moment Forever", "Mr. & Mrs. Ness", "Higher than Hope" (and the accompanying sea of about 5 dozen lighters), watching Tuomas drain about 2/3 of a 30 oz mid-song, a show that actually started on time for a change.

LOWS: Volbeat's less-than-40-minute set, Anette's wardrobe (what was she wearing?), "Sahara" was weak.

ONE WORD: Energetic.

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