One of the most difficult challenges that can face a band is the task of replacing their lead singer, since they are often one of the most important elements of the band’s sound, as well as one of the most recognizable faces in the group. When said band performs a genre of music as complex as symphonic heavy metal, that task becomes even more Herculean, especially when said vocalist possesses an incredible range, classical training, and a truly operatic quality to their voice — and such was the case in 2005, when Finnish band Nightwish were searching for someone to fill the shoes of signature siren Tarja Turunen. Two years later, soubrette soprano Anette Olzon took up the reigns, and remained with the quartet for half a decade. Halfway through their fall 2012 tour, however, a sudden hospitalization was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for Olzon’s position with Nightwish, and former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen was summoned with barely a moment’s notice to spare. What the band may have planned after their Imaginaerum tour is still unknown, but Jansen has risen magnificently to the challenge before her, and if the band’s performance at the Warfield was any indication, she may remain with the group for a long time yet.
Those looking for a night of hard-rocking, orchestra-drenched tunes would have been hard pressed to find a better concert to attend this evening, as Floridian power metal masters Kamelot offered up a 50 minute opening set to kick off the evening, themselves also recently employing a new lead singer in Seventh Wonder vocalist Tommy Karevik. Despite not being possessed of the long hair and stateside roots of his compatriots, the Swedish-born Karevik took up his role with gusto, his body contorting and twisting as he belted out his words, trading gestures with lead songwriter and band founder Thomas Youngblood as they moved about the stage. Bassist Sean Tibbetts was the most animated and fascinating member of the group to watch, with his several-foot-long braided locks whipping about the stage like a vicious man-o-war as he swung his head back and forth, all the while churning out powerful, crushing riffs. Near the end of their set, the men of Kamelot were joined by guest vocalists Elize Ryd and Alissa White-Gluz, who marched, catlike, from side to side, complementing the whipping locks and thundering notes with their own haunting, sensuous voices, while the crowd raged on before them.
The array of draped tapestries and anthemic banners that decorated the stage for Kamelot’s set, no doubt impressive in and of itself, was nonetheless dwarfed by the sheer amounts of lights and the massive backdrop that framed Nightwish’s instruments, and a roar from the assembled audience was the first clue that their Finnish heros were about to make their entrance, moments after the lights fell and a sonorous introduction came trumpeting over the loudspeakers. Each member of the group took their turns marching onstage, building the elements of their opening number piece by piece — keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, and bassist Marco Hietala, with drummer Jukka Nevalainen slipping into his kit with all the suspense of a deadly assassin. When, at last, the opening riffs and keyboard passages of “Storytime” had been breathed into their fullest form of life, the stage was brightly lit in azure hues as Floor Jansen strode to the microphone, tore it from its stand, and threw herself into the opening words. If anyone in the Warfield had any doubts or reservations about her presence or performance, they melted within moments, and the crowd matched her raised fists and wild twists with a joyous fervor.
For older Nightwish fans who were not terribly educated with the band’s new material, the band followed their newly-crafted opener with two much-loved classics: “Wish I Had An Angel” and “Dark Chest Of Wonders”, both from their 2004 magnum opus Once. Jansen and Hietala traded vocals back and forth through the set, and both seemed to be filled with glee to be onstage together, with warm smiles exchanged constantly between the two as the set continued. Holopainen, who remained stoic behind his keyboards, was rarely seen to crack a grin onstage, but here and there a subtle display of cheer crept upon his face, so infectious was the camaraderie between the rest of the band. In addition to the regular quartet, who remained solid in their delivery and highly animated in their antics, Nightwish was joined by English musician Troy Donockley, who accompanied the group on uilleann pipes, an Irish bagpipe with its own set of non-blown bellows. With Holopainen’s incredible collection of orchestral samples, and Donockley’s gentle but soaring sounds, it was difficult to abandon the perception of a titanic orchestra shaking the walls of the Warfield as the night continued.
Halfway through the set, the members of Nightwish pulled up stools and seats, and drummer Nevalainen crept out from behind his kit to play a cajón, as the band slipped into a drifting, nearly-unplugged set of songs, setting aside the pounding rhythms and howling riffs for a few beautiful numbers. The biggest crowd response came from the well-known “Nemo”, which was slowed down and presented in new form as a sparkling ballad that illuminated the seafaring nature of the song like it had never been presented before. The band ended this portion of the evening with the rousing, stomping instrumental number “Last Of The Wilds”, with Hietala and guitarist Vuorinen slinging their axes back onto the stage, but still offering the spotlight to Donockley and his mournful pipe dirges. After an explosive blast in the form of the classic “Planet Hell”, which offered Jansen another brilliant moment to shine in her new role, several pieces from the band’s new record, Imaginaerum, were used to close their set, including the instrumental title track that played while the band waved and gestured in gratitude to their onlookers. If possible, the members of Nightwish seemed to be in even higher spirits by the time the evening came to a close, grinning from ear to ear as they bowed, arm-in-arm, at the front of the stage; it was clear that they had shared a spectacular night together, and the house lights came up after the closing track had finished, with no encore to speak of.
As evidenced by the large crowd that paid $110 apiece for VIP, early-entry meet-and-greet passes, as well as the colossal amount of unearthly roars that accompanied Jansen’s request for the audience to bellow at the band in appreciation, Nightwish’s recent lineup shakeups have done little to slow the band’s continuing, triumphant journey across the world, bringing with them the mesmerizing musicianship of its members. Having listened to them for nearly ten years, but not being experienced with any of the material with second singer Anette Olzon, I had no preconceptions about Floor Jansen’s performance, and was delighted with how well she stepped into the spot and made it her own, her presence radiating confidence in the role. The unabashed joy displayed by the group as they played together was inspiring, and hopefully Nightwish’s next tour will be even stronger than this one — with, hopefully, Jansen still remaining in the ring.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.