AYREON UNI­VERSE

Prog - - Limelight - JERRY EWING

For a self-pro­claimed recluse with a patho­log­i­cal fear of per­form­ing live, Arjen Lucassen is mak­ing a pretty good fist of look­ing for all the world like a ded­i­cated rock star. As his band turn their hand to The Cas­tle Hall from 1998’s Into The Elec­tric Cas­tle, the tall, lithe, black-clad fig­ure takes to the stage to tu­mul­tuous cheers from the packed throng, and throws the pre­req­ui­site rock star shapes. Later he’ll sing the same al­bum’s Amaz­ing Flight In Space and ad­dress the crowd like a veteran stage per­former.

Eight hours ear­lier he’d been adamant at how ter­ri­fy­ing the prospect was for him. Yet half an hour af­ter the gig, a buoyant, beam­ing Lucassen is ask­ing Prog what we thought of the show, clearly buzzing from the ex­pe­ri­ence. Of course, if you sell out three nights at Tilburg’s big­gest venue, and could have prob­a­bly sold it out ten times more, you’d be buzzing too.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing sce­nario to some­one from an­other coun­try, where Lucassen’s re­luc­tance to per­form live means we’re lim­ited to just his mu­sic – largely Ayreon, but other side projects too. Ad­mit­tedly, the scope of that mu­sic is far from lim­ited, but de­void of the per­sonal touch of live per­for­mance, some­times things get lost in trans­la­tion.

There’s no prob­lem trans­lat­ing what lies be­fore us in Tilburg, though. The place is awash with prog mu­si­cians and fans, all fo­cused on the 013, many of whom have, we’re told, trav­elled from 51 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. There’s no doubt­ing that when Arjen

Lucassen does per­form a show, a lot of peo­ple want to see it.

I sup­pose it takes an ob­ses­sively sin­gu­lar creative vi­sion to man­age 16 singers from the worlds of prog and power metal, plus eight ad­di­tional mu­si­cians, and work them into a show fea­tur­ing mu­sic from all nine Ayreon al­bums (plus two tracks from Star One’s 2002 Space Metal de­but). But then Lucassen is to his unique sci-fi uni­verse what Chris Carter was to The X-Files or Joss Whe­don to Buffy.

Once you know Lucassen was hugely in­spired by

Je­sus Christ Su­per­star, this evening’s spec­ta­cle be­come eas­ier to un­ravel. With so many singers wan­der­ing on and off the stage

(some­times an­nounced on the gi­ant HD screen that spans the stage), the night of­ten has more of the feel­ing of mu­si­cal theatre, which is a lit­tle dis­tract­ing at times. And it has to be said that one or two of the more metal-ori­en­tated singers overdo the vo­cal histri­on­ics in a way that tends to ex­plain why a lot of peo­ple on this side of the chan­nel can’t take power metal that se­ri­ously.

There’s no such OTT melo­drama with the prog-friendly con­tin­gent, though. Damian Wil­son (a veteran of four Ayreon al­bums, as well as Star One and Stream Of Pas­sion), Nightwish’s Floor Jansen (Ayreon and Star One), Kata­to­nia’s Jonas Renkse (just 01011001 for now), Kayak’s Ed­ward Reek­ers (Ayreon) and An­neke van Giers­ber­gen (Ayreon, The Gen­tle Storm) all ac­quit them­selves with aplomb, de­liv­er­ing the right blend of bom­bast and re­straint. It’s par­tic­u­larly en­joy­able to see the nor­mally ret­i­cent Renkse come out of his shell some­what.

How­ever, that said, he’s not a patch on the nat­u­rally ebul­lient Wil­son.

Per­haps the best moment is a pyro-laden Every­body Dies, helmed by the Nightwish duo of Jansen and Marco Hi­etala, Nightmare’s Maggy Luyten and Kamelot’s Tommy Kare­vik. This hits such ex­quis­ite highs that Lucassen’s own ap­pear­ance, for just three num­bers at the end, does seem like sell­ing things a bit short.

Not that the crowd care one jot. They go pre­dictably crazy, not even notic­ing that their hero has ac­tu­ally de­parted for closer The Eye Of Ra. He’s back to take a fi­nal bow, though. Fit­ting every one of the night’s performers on the stage for it is as im­pres­sive as pulling off this whole feat in the first place.

“THE PROGFRIENDLY CON­TIN­GENT

AC­QUIT THEM­SELVES WITH APLOMB, DE­LIV­ER­ING THE RIGHT BLEND OF BOM­BAST AND

RE­STRAINT.” THE FAN­TAS­TIC FLOOR JANSEN.

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