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Nightwish At The Greek Theatre: Review

Jeremy Fuster |
May 4, 2015 | 2:00 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Nightwish's Tuomas Holopainen at the Greek Theatre on May 1, 2015. (Jeremy Fuster/ Neon Tommy)
Nightwish's Tuomas Holopainen at the Greek Theatre on May 1, 2015. (Jeremy Fuster/ Neon Tommy)
It would seem a tad ironic that Nightwish, a symphonic metal band known for praising nature and who just released an album based around the theory of evolution, would make smog-infested Los Angeles one of the marquee shows on the opening leg of their latest world tour.

But then it turns out that the show is in Griffith Park under a full moon, and it all makes sense.

After becoming the biggest metal act in Finland and a major presence in Europe and South America, Nightwish has spent the past ten years making a name for themselves in the U.S. Their latest release, 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful,' became their second straight album to crack the Billboard Top 40. This month, they opened their tour with a sold-out show at New York's legendary Hammerstein Ballroom; and on Friday night, they stopped by Southern California once again to perform for a packed Greek Theatre.

Nightwish has also spent the last ten years dealing with regular bouts of turbulence. This is the first tour with new vocalist Floor Jansen as a full-time member after coming in as a replacement following the sudden firing of previous singer Anette Olzon in the middle of their last U.S. tour in October 2012. Olzon's five-year, two-album run with the band had split fans down the middle, as she had come in after a controversial breakup with original singer Tarja Turunen, who has since gone on to have a strong solo career back in Europe.

But through all the lineup changes, Nightwish has remained hugely successful for one simple reason: they earnestly love to play music that has the bombast and flair of a thousand Trans-Siberian Orchestras. There's no irony to be found here. Nightwish has never been afraid to look pretentious or ridiculous, and they dive into their blend of film score music, chugging guitars, and Celine Dion woodwinds with such joyous enthusiasm that it becomes almost impossible not to get swept up in it. Nightwish is a band that loves who they are and are not afraid to show it.

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Nightwish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen (Jeremy Fuster/ Neon Tommy)
Nightwish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen (Jeremy Fuster/ Neon Tommy)
The bands they brought along with them to support this tour share that same mentality. First was Delain, a Dutch gothic act that is one of the many, MANY bands that Nightwish bassist Marco Hietala has worked with in the studio over the years. Like Nightwish, Delain's music is polished to a perfect shine, highlighted by the crystal clear voice of Charlotte Wessels. Hietala joined the band for "The Gathering," strutting onto the stage with sunglasses, muscle tee, and the swagger of a Sunset Strip rock star. Wessels, meanwhile, serenaded the crowd with a pop-tinged voice that has allowed Delain to surpass predecessors like Within Temptation and become the finest example of gothic metal that can be found today. Both Delain and the genre may be dismissed as pop music for metalheads, but Wessels and her crew are more than happy to provide loads of catchy hooks for the fans who are willing to meet them halfway.

Next came the Swedish war band Sabaton to mark their fourth L.A. show in the past 13 months. After touring in America with Iced Earth and Amon Amarth in 2014, this pack of high-octane, arctic-camo clad rockstars was certainly an odd duck when placed between two female-fronted bands. Nonetheless, the number of Sabaton fans in attendance rivaled those who came to see the headliners, and they were rewarded with an abridged version of the 90-minute barnburner set they held at The Whisky back in November.

Joakim Broden, as always, proved himself to be one of the most engaging frontmen in music today, kicking and sprinting around the stage as he belted out tales of WWII heroes and twisting his bandmates' nipples to help them perform high-pitched metal screams. In between songs, Broden picked up a guitar to play "Smoke On The Water," only to get shown up by an extended solo from guitarist Thobbe Englund. The strange irony is that while Sabaton has the stunning riffs and explosive choruses to get an arena crowd excited, the fun, jovial attitude they exhibit from start to finish is more fitting for an intimate venue like the House of Blues. Sabaton can be enjoyed from the cheap seats at the Greek, but they're most effective when they're grinning and jumping around right in your face.

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Nightwish, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for the Hollywood Bowl's little brother. In addition to playing eight songs from "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," Nightwish's set list featured songs from past albums that were built around sweeping orchestral melodies and backup choirs, making the show feel like an L.A. Phil summer showcase of Hans Zimmer classics. But instead of an orchestra, the symphonic elements came from the keyboards of the band's mastermind, Tuomas Holopainen. While the rest of the band engaged the crowd, Holopainen sat quietly on the left side, hammering away at the boards and thrashing around to the beat of his own creations. Even though he's always left the singing to others, an eagle-eyed fan could spot him mouthing the lyrics that he penned for Hietala and Jansen to sing. Songwriting has always been a deeply personal endeavor for Holopainen, and he shows so much outward passion on stage that just watching him contort his face as the LED lights cast colored shadows on him is a show within a show.

Marco Hietala and Floor Jansen (Jeremy Fuster/ Neon Tommy)
Marco Hietala and Floor Jansen (Jeremy Fuster/ Neon Tommy)
The centerpiece of the evening, however, was Jansen, who has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is meant to be Nightwish's singer. On the new album, she doesn't have the powerful presence that she's shown in pre-Nightwish projects like After Forever and ReVamp. No one in the band does. Unlike past albums, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" is an album where solos take a backseat to songs. When played live, however, Jansen makes them her own, belting out the soaring choruses in aggressive anthems like "Weak Fantasy" before becoming playful and inviting in softer songs like "Elan" and "My Walden." She also takes some creative liberties with the older songs too, adding new melodies and inflections to the usually basic "Storytime" and flaunting how high her soprano voice can go in Nightwish's magnum opus, "Ghost Love Score."

But the highlight of the night came when the backdrop changed to reveal the cover art for "Oceanborn," the album that began Nightwish's rise to stardom. Jansen then announced they would play "Stargazers," the opening track from that album and a song that Nightwish hasn't played live since 2004. The vocals were written for Tarja Turunen's operatic voice, but Jansen rose to the challenge and hit every high note without a single mistake.

While Anette Olzon was decent during her Nightwish run, her lack of range left Nightwish unable to play much of their older work. Now, with Jansen in the fold, Nightwish fans can look forward to seeing the band dust off some of their oldest hits. As Nightwish charges towards its twentieth year in the business, Jansen's vocals and Holopainen's new songs have helped them reach a new stage in their evolution, and it will be amazing to see what new flights of fantasy they can pull out of their dark chest of wonders.

Jeremy Fuster can be reached on Twitter



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