Live Review : Avantasia @ O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London on April 16th 2019
Unlike my Liverpudlian and Chester dwelling friends I have it easy and my travels on behalf of ROCKFLESH surmount to falling on and off a tram. However tonight I have wandered further afield, much further afield, infact all the way to the big smoke for a ultra rare performance by Tobias Sammet's star studded side project Avantasia. Now I say side project, but to be honest for the last few years this multi vocalist powermetal behemoth has kept him almost permanently distracted from his day job of fronting Edguy. Avantasia as a concept is as bloated and over the top as Metal gets; an ever changing revolving door of big name lead vocalists from across the heavy Rock and Metal universe, story rich song-writing about elves, dwarfs and mystical clock makers, twelve minute multi-section epics that make Jim Steinman sound like the Sex Pistols and a penchant for three and quarter hour running time shows. And the latter is exactly what we get tonight. Now I have had mixed fortunes with long shows, I’ve seen four hour Bruce Springsteen sets where the time has disappeared in the blink of an eye, but also I still bear the scars of last year’s Guns N’ Roses Download snooze fest of unwanted covers and meaningless self-indulgent solos. Thankfully tonight is very much in the first camp, in fact tonight is utterly fantastic and a complete masterclass in how to hold an audience in rapture for the over 196 minutes.
There are three key facts that make tonight so fantastic and so special. The first is the world class vocalist that Tobias Sammet has recruited to fill his material with passion and vitality. This constantly shifting mural of voices and personality keeps the show fresh and invigorating. During the first portion of the set each singer has two tracks to showcase their vocals skills and to soak in the adulation of the crowd. So following opener of 'Ghost in the Moon’, we get Pretty Maids Ronnie Atkinson letting rip with his raspy glam tones for ‘Starlight’ and 'Book of Shallows' from the “Moonglow” album and it is in the latter track that we get our second exceptional vocal performance. You see on record 'Book of Shallows' contains the fabulously menacing growled delivery of Kreator’s Mille Petrozza. I had wondered how they would present that section live and to my joy the gruff forbidding lines are delivered with spine tingling accuracy by backing vocalist Adrienne Cowan. In fact her contribution is nothing short of revelatory and leads to a wild reaction from the crowd. Norwegian man mountain Jorn Lande is next up and his delivery of ‘The Raven Child' and 'Lucifer' brings to mind the great Ronnie James Dio in both its depth and range. But, for me, as wonderful as his voice is it can’t hold a candle to the next man up. Geoff Tate may have a reputation as a hard man to work with, but tonight he is greeted as a returning god by the crowd and shows that his pipes still have all the power that he had thirty years ago. For his two tracks he literally burns off the stage and performs vocal acrobatics that would be impossible for lesser men. And talking about incredible voices the next man to wander on is Mr. Big’s Eric Martin for the rather bizarre cover of 'Maniac' from Flashdance, now on record this version is unnecessary at best but live it actually works and it is a joy to see Eric and Tobias trade lines with massive grins on their faces. But the best is still yet to come and the final guest vocalist is treated like a returning hero as the chants of “BOB, BOB BOB” echo around the auditorium from the moments that Magnum’s much adored frontman Bob Catley takes the stage. He is his usually charismatic self and his voice is as wonderful as ever and he belts out 'Lavender ‘and 'The Story ain’t Over‘ with the same vim, vigour and passion that he brings to his own material. And at that point we are only half way through.
Which brings us to the second reason why tonight is so god darn amazing. For all the synchronisation and slick production values necessary to revolve round six highly enigmatic and big personality performers, tonight actually feels good humoured, natural and informal. The playful banter between the different singers (who, as Eric Martin points out, come from completely different parts of the rock world) feels real and full of love and respect. In the early nineties Mr. Big and Queensrÿche were two of my big musical loves and watching Eric and Geoff goof around together on stage feels like a dream come true, it also feels utterly natural. Avantasia doesn’t feel forced and tonight succeed where so many mass vocalist projects fails because its constituent parts seem genuinely honoured to be here, hold each other with great esteem and feel comfortable enough with each other to take the piss, a lot. And talking of affable the third and final piece of the jigsaw that make this such a wondrous evening is Tobias Sammet himself. He is frankly the greatest frontman you have never heard of and is conclusive proof that Germans are humorous and do self-depreciation. Avantasia is both his dream and his baby and the look of pride that he wears for the whole evening just shines out. This is a labour of love for him and the joy and enthusiasm that pours of this small German is utterly infectious and creates such a wonderfully intoxicating atmosphere in the room. He is humble, funny and just owns every inch of the Forum’s stage, but he also knows when to step back and let his guests take the spotlight.
At no point does the show lag or feel stretched or dull. There is no filler at all, the constantly changing vocal line up mean that Ronnie, Jorn, Geoff, Eric, Bob and even Tobias all get adequate down time and also moments to shine. Each song is a big number with big production and gusto delivery, the pace never slackens and every song is performed like it is the last number. The time just flies by suddenly we are in danger of running headlong into the venues strict curfew (which according to Tobias will result in a sizable fine). The fine furlong is the Meat Loaf sounding 'Mystery of a Blood Red Rose’ (which was almost chosen to represent Germany at Eurovision 2016) and the utterly euphoric 'Lost in Space’. But we are not done yet and Tobias breaks the illusion by telling us that they were always going to come back for more whether we asked for an encore or not and its straight into the arm swaying folk metal of 'Farewell' with Adrienne Cowan again showing off her fantastic and versatile voice and then literally everyone is back on stage for 'Sign Of The Cross’. It is when you have fourteen musicians all lined up at the front belting away at the song that you actually realise the full scale of what Tobias has pulled off and then with final flourishes, theoretical bows, blown kisses and a final chant of “BOB BOB BOB”, its all over, three hours and fifteen minutes after it started. Avantasia live is an immense sceptical but that is not what you are left with. Instead the feeling that stays with you is one of warmth and humility and that fact you have just watched six of metal’s great frontmen enjoy the hell out of performing with each other.