Tobias Sammet's Avantasia Sums Up A World Class Night In New York City: "I Cannot Believe That This Is A North American Audience."
Concerts come and concerts go. The more concerts we see, the less distinctive they become against the backdrop of such numbers. As we get older, it seems each show etches away a fragment of that youthful excitement – the part that props our heroes up on a mantle where they are only revered for the music they create. In 2016, there are so many opportunities to view our heroes from the other side of the stage – whether it is via “meet and greets” or just through the accessibility of social media, which proves as much amazing as it is awful. Our heroes become so human that it etches away the luster of the mantle which our youthful excitement once raised them on. In this regard, perhaps those who feel “rock is dead” may just have a point.
Though it has become exceedingly difficult, I have made it a point to not let social media strip that youthful excitement from me. Albums and tours still excite me. Musicians still seem larger than life. Music still sends me on a mental journey away from the bullshit of daily life. A quirky introverted nature still blocks my mind when opportunities arise in which I get to meet my heroes. Enter Avantasia – a band created by a then 23 year old Tobias Sammet, a brilliant songwriter with a gift for creating music without taking himself too seriously. Here is a man who reveals the progress of all of his musical ventures through social media to a horde of people who seemingly judge his fate with each word. Sammet has a world class sense of humor and people either love him for it, or feel he needs to “be more serious.” One thing is certain, if “rock is dead” – then there wouldn’t be a Tobias Sammet. The sooner the world wakes up and takes notice, the better.
Some months back, I caught wind that Avantasia was considering playing a few dates in the U.S. As a “super fan” and having witnessed the traveling all-star band’s first North American show in Quebec three years back, you can imagine that youthful excitement level. Despite the number of shows I’ve attended over the years, I remember that Avantasia show like it was yesterday. Sammet was deathly ill with the flu, nearly cancelled the gig, but realized the importance that 4-5,000 fans who showed up placed into that show. Despite Tobi admitting that he doesn’t remember much of it when he arrived on stage, for the fans it was glorious. Heroes in music still live among us...and the sooner the world wakes up and takes notice the better.
I’m not going to lie – the lead up to Avantasia’s performance in New York City was nothing short of overwhelming and more exciting than anything I’ve ever been a part of at ProgPower USA, exceeding Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody’s performance in 2013 by just a smidge. I did my part as a fan to promote the show, in more ways and in more intensity than any other I’ve ever attempted to spread the word on. Milton at Infinity Concerts, a co-promoter of ProgPower USA, is a friend and I wanted to do my part to ensure this event was the success it should be in whatever little way I could.
I checked into the Jersey City Hyatt just across from the majestic Manhattan skyline and the eastern seaboard’s most heavily polluted river, the Hudson. It’s a place I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of times, yet for some reason had never seen a view quite like this. The entire lead up to check in had a distinct feel of ProgPower USA. For one, Milton booked the show. Secondly, the same crowd that would have flown into Atlanta, GA and filled Center Stage every September were all flying into New York City to see Avantasia. Thirdly, members of Avantasia have either played in bands that performed at ProgPower USA or are in other bands that are likely candidates for future performances at the premiere U.S. festival. The feeling was like family and it was overwhelming and it showed. Scheduled meetings of PPUSA regulars were planned in bars near the venue and for a 24 hour period, it seemed as though Center Stage was transplanted north.
Back at the hotel, after a long while since members of the band scattered to points unknown in the city – they all seemed to return and converge at the bar at about 1:30am. I was able to have candid and extremely interesting conversations with Tobi Sammet, Ronnie Atkins, Oliver Hartmann, Herbie Langhans, Sascha Paeth and Jorn Lande. Already the whole experience was on par with the best ones in my life and the show hadn’t even started yet.
Avantasia was set to perform at the PlayStation Theater (formerly the Best Buy Theater) for 3.5 hours. It was the very first performance in New York City and only the second on U.S. soil (the band stopped in Anaheim the Monday before this show and then over to Toronto). As it turned out, the New York City crowd was the most attended of the three in North America and the loudest.
When I arrived in the pit of crowded photographers, the excitement was palpable. I recognized most of the lucky people who were up along the barrier and we stuck up conversations about Avantasia and the promotion leading up to the show. I was hoping that walk up ticket sales made up for what I thought was a sure fire sell out. As it turns out – they did. The show was a success on all fronts.
You cannot blame a band for feeling a little down from going through a string of 15-18 sell out shows to start a tour – in places that held 1500-2500 fans – to ones that drew about 600-700. Branding and exposure aside, there are plenty of fans in the United States, but the distance proved a little too much for many. In New York City – we topped out at around 1200 fans, but we sounded like 12,000 fans and it showed. I didn’t have to put words to the excitement on Tobi Sammet’s face – my camera did that. Needless to say, by the end of the night – we had convinced Avantasia that a return was not only required, but necessary. At one point, Tobi said: “Now don’t take this the wrong way, but I cannot believe that this is a North American audience.”
Seeing Avantasia is a rite of passage for those of us who live in the U.S. and delve in the world of power metal, hard rock and rock operas. It represents a once in a lifetime – maybe twice – time when a collection of the world’s best singers meet on one stage with some of the world’s best musicians and producers. The amount of talent on that stage was staggering. The sooner the world wakes up and takes notice, the better.
The setlist was comprised of the best songs spanning the band’s 16 year career with an emphasis – unsurprisingly – on the latest release “Ghostlights.” I’m sure many fans like to grumble about the lack of songs from Metal Opera, Pt. II – but I’m telling you the setlist was perfect. It is impossible to walk away from that show not having felt like they were served a four course meal, cake and a party complete with all the alcohol you need to drink until dawn. Jorn Lande (Dracula/Allen-Lande/ex-MasterPlan), Michael Kiske (Place Vendome/Kiske-Sommerville/Unisonic/ex-Helloween), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids/Nordic Union), Herbie Langhans (Sinbreed/Beyond the Bridge), Amanda Sommerville (Trillium) shared the stage with world class musicians: Oliver Hartmann (Hartmann), Sascha Paeth (ex-Heaven’s Gate/ex-Luca Turilli), Miro (ex-Luca Turilli), Felix Bohnke (Edguy) and Andre Nygenfind.
The band hashed out classics like “The Scarecrow,” “Avantasia,” “Lost In Space,” “Reach Out for
the Light,” “Farewell,” “Sign of the Cross,” “Dying for an Angel” and “The Wicked Symphony” with newer classics like “The Great Mystery,” “Invoke the Machine,” “The Watchmaker’s Dream,” “Ghostlights,” “Lucifer,” “Let the Storm Descend Upon You,” “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” and “Draconian Love.”
The set was a dream and the show was the best I’ve ever attended, bar none. The sheer magnitude of seeing this in New York City would have been enough to propel it to that status in my eyes. However, knowing all of the work that went into it and how hard people I know and are proud to call friends pushed it to happen – it was so satisfying to watch the payoff as the band performed at peak level to an audience that had been lusting to see them for many years. It was a triumph – a glorious night with so many friends watching heroes in a time we never thought possible.
Rock is far from dead.
The sooner the world wakes up and takes notice, the better.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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