April 22, 2016 Avantasia Makes History At Playstation Theater, NYC 4-15-16
Hailing from Germany is the multi-talented genius, Tobias Sammet, co-founder of the Power Metal band Edguy. Just in his teenage years, he led the band to release ten studio albums between 1997’s Kingdom of Madness to 2014’s Space Police: Defenders of the Crown. Seven years after the original formation of Edguy, in 1999, Sammet expanded his musical vision as he created his side Rock Opera project, Avantasia. Initially began as a one-time collaboration with 2001’s The Metal Opera, Avantasia went to rest shortly after 2002’s The Metal Opera II. After six years of silence, Avantasia resurrected with 2008’s The Scarecrow, where it clearly became more than just a one-off project. Fast-forward to 2016, Sammett returns with his follow-up to 2013’s The Mystery of Time with January’s Nuclear Blast Records release, Ghostlights. Highly anticipated, Avantasia’s seventh studio album, Ghostlights, has been receiving positive reviews and recently topped Germany’s charts where many consider the album to be one of the best Metal albums of the year thus far.
Touring wise, Edguy alone has not stepped foot in the United States since 2009 on the Tinnitus Sanctus World Tour. Avantasia on the other hand once made a quick pit stop in Canada on 2013’s The Mystery of the World Tour, which according to Sammet, he unfortunately barely remembers since he was recovering from the flu. This little history lesson leads to one of the most anticipated tours in Avantasia’s seventeen-year career where they have booked a forty date world tour. Locations include Japan, North America, South America, Europe, and historically landing in the United States for the very first time. Fans followed the group’s social media feed, watching Sammet fly from Anaheim, California, to Toronto, and finally landing in New York City. Making it the second night in history to perform in the United States, on Friday April 15th, 2016, they band arrived in midtown Manhattan to perform at Playstation Theater.
For this North American trek, Vocalist Bob Catley was unable to attend due to a schedule conflict with Magnum’s tour. However, the guest list is long and plentiful, including ex-Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske, the one behind the iconic vocals on The Keeper of the Seven Seas Part I&II. Originally from Long Island came Mr.Big’s Eric Martin, who has been working with Avantasia for a while. In addition other guests include Denmark’s Pretty Maids vocalist Ronnie Atkins, Norwegian Heavy Metal vocalist Jørn Lande (Masterplan, Ayreon’s 01011001), Symphonic Metal singer Amanda Somerville (Trillium, HDK) on back-up and a few guest lead vocals, and from Beyond the Bridge, Vocalist Herbie Langhans. Band members also include the long time Avantasia collaborator Sascha Paeth on guitar, Oliver Hartmann on guitar, as he is known for making several Avantasia and Edguy appearances, Miro Rodenberg on the keyboard, Andre Neigenfind on bass, and lastly, Sammet’s drummer for both Edguy and Avantasia, Felix Bohnke.
With an extensive lineup and only two United States dates, many fans traveled across the United States, including Seattle, South Carolina, Chicago, and a country-wide group known as Prog Power USA, for the New York City event. Fans held out signs of their travels and were slightly disappointed when, despite their arrival, there was no merchandise. The reason, this extensive tour already had fans from the previous shows to sell-out the merchandise. That aside, as the house filled up with eager followers, the lights eventually dimmed after the clock struck eight. A momentous introduction hit with Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme from 1968’s epic A 2001: A Space Odyssey. The ecstatic crowd captured this dawn of time recording as the dawn of Avantasia stepping on the New York City stage for the first time. With the rest of the band taking their place, they moved into the powerful opening of “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” from Ghostlights. Screams grew stronger the moment Sammet appeared and he kicked off singing. Moving right along with the title track of “Ghostlights” brought Kiske onto the platform. Atkins soon followed during “Invoke the Machine,” from The Mystery of Time.
Adding color to the performance, Sammet showcased his comical side to the audience as he joked about being on Broadway as it was their first time in New York City. He then continued the set with the fresh “Unchain the Light” from Ghostlights that featured both Kiske and Atkins on vocals. At this point, Sammet waived a physical copy of Ghostlights out to the audience and demanded all should buy it. Not a unfair demand, the show moved into an older direction as Sammet presented Oliver “The Hitman” Hartmann on vocals for “The Watchmakers’ Dream.” Expressing how good it was to be with everyone that evening, the fans cheered as Sammet introduced “the Viking on stage to the army of Yorks,” Lande, to join in on 2008’s The Scarecrow title track.
Fans learned the history behind the writing of the next piece as Sammet continued to talk about Lande. Expressing how it was eight years ago on the Masters of Rock Festival in the Czech Republic, when everyone wanted to sleep, aside from Lande who continued singing in Norwegian Folk Ballads. Sammet thought it was beautiful, he remembered it when he was recording Ghostlights, and wanted to write one for him as they went into the next “Lucifer.” The entertainment continued as Sammet announced the next guest vocalist as “Mr. Bigmouth” where Martin walked onto the stage to sing “What’s Left of Me.” Martin presented the next piece as he genuinely extended his gratitude, stating how proud he was to be part of the extensive tour. After Martin’s moment, he moved into the title track from 2010’s The Wicked Symphony where Langhans, Lande, Hartmann, and Somerville teamed up on vocals. This is when Sammet reappeared on the platform just in time to announce the next single as he referred it as “the animal.” He introduced Langhans to sing this song that involved “the sex lives of crocodiles” as they went into “Draconian Love.”
Already an extraordinary evening, Sammet emphasized how great it was to be with so much talent on the stage and to have an excellent audience as he presented the next “really old song” that was written in the 17th century as he asked everyone if they wanted to hear The Metal Opera. Fans cried out in approval as Sammet continued to express the theme was stolen from Celine Dion as it could have been on the Titanic Soundtrack, or as historic of a song as Europe’s “Final Countdown.” Continuing the introduction by inviting Somerville to participate on lead vocals, she graciously took the microphone. Thanking the crowd, she stated that this was the closest place to her home as she moved into “Farewell” from The Metal Opera while Kiske accompanied her on vocals.
As the night heated up with enjoyable tunes, Sammet’s jokes continued to expand. He cut off his own ramblings and said, “Ok, stop this bullshit and ready, ready let’s fuck. Not ready to fuck.” It was a funny moment that had the entire venue in laughter as they moved into “Stargazers” with Kiske, Lande, Atkins, and Hartmann on guest vocals. Bringing Broadway musicals onto the stage, Sammet continued to sing humorously as Kiske intervened, stating, “Sorry, it is not Metal.” Sammet changed to a deeper tone, expressing how the best part of being in NYC was performing on the stage in front of the fans as he continued to playfully ramble on about the durable condition his filthy earplugs were in and moved into the next offering, “Shelter From the Rain.”
With a set that was over the ninety-minute mark, Sammet admitted this would normally be the time when bands would head back to the hotel. However, they were still there and had plenty left for the night. Introducing the next tune off of the latest Ghostlights, Sammet stated how confident they all are with the album. He went onto say how the next song would be considered a classic for years to come as they moved into “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” with Atkins and Lande on vocals. This powerful piece was equivalent to Iron Maiden fans asking to hear the lengthy The Book of Souls (2015) song “Empire of the Clouds.” Nonetheless, the audience cherished the experience of the near thirteen-minute epic being performed in its entirety.
Moving along and keeping everyone’s spirits high, Sammet admitted the awful truth about Metal not seeming too popular in the United States. However, he was surprised to see the incredible turnout of the packed crowd as they expected only four people on a Friday night, and said, “You guys, you rock!” Showing how much they adore Metal, the audience screamed out “Avantasia!” to which Sammet reacted with a smile and shouted back. As he expressed the history behind Power Metal, where the German band Helloween started the trend, Kiske spoke up to complement Sammet’s songwriting as they moved into “Promised Land” with Lande once again joining in on vocals.
Lights momentarily went dark on the stage as the music moved back in time during the “Prelude” and lit up once the classic “Reach Out For the Light” began with Kiske joining in. Here Sammet confessed to the crowd he would never have become a singer himself if it was not for one man who was sharing the stage with him that night. Fans knew exactly who he was talking about as they yelled out “Kiske!” Sammet continued to reflect back on the year 1999, when he was only 21 at the time, asked Kiske if he wanted to do a Heavy Metal album with him, and Kiske flat out refused. Everyone laughed as both Sammet and Kiske showcased how things changed over the years and their friendship was visible on the stage. They then moved into anthemic Avantasia tune, where many fans screamed out the title “Avantasia.” Nothing less than exhilarating, Martin grabbed the microphone and asked if anyone else was from Long Island. Receiving a good inclination that many were he pumped up the audience to move into the next “Twisted Mind” with Atkins joining him.
Continuing on with the extended set, Sammet and Martin shared their comedic friendship on the platform as Martin stated this was in fact the sixth week of the tour. In response, Sammet had the audience applaud for Martin and moved into the next song entitled “The Great Mystery” with Martin filling in for Catley on vocals. The crowd waved their arms back and forth as Martin expressed how the emotion felt better for him performing it in The States before he moved into “Dying for an Angel.” From here the set wisely ended with “The Story Ain’t Over,” where despite performing for nearly three hours, fans continued to ask for more.
After a short break, Sammet and the band returned to the stage as he expressed once more how surprised he was with the packed house, and Avantasia’s honor to perform. Sammet mentioned the venue had a strict curfew where they would get fined if they went over, but he did not care. He admitted it was not the audience’s fault from their chit-chatting, and promised to do the full show. With that, he introduced the next piece being from Avantasia’s resurrection as they went into “Lost in Space.”
Overwhelmed by the emotions all evening, Sammet looked into the crowd and admitted to all that he wishes to return to New York again. Shortly after, he introduced the band. A breathy intro, one of the many who received their justified praise was the Producer of Avantasia, Edguy, Kamelot, Angra, Mr. Sascha Paeth. From here Paeth grabbed the microphone and introduced Sammet to the audience saying, “There is one in the middle, he is a great singer and created Avantasia sixteen years ago. He is a funny guy.” The audience thunderously applauded as they went into the finale of “Sign of the Cross” from The Metal Opera followed by partially “The Seven Angels” from The Metal Opera II.
When it was all said and done, Sammet kept his promise and delivered a three-hour extravaganza filled with works ranging Avantasia’s entire discography. The evening was glorious and an event that many waited over sixteen years to see. History was made at the Playstation Theater as many would classify this night more than just a show; it was a once in a lifetime experience. Hopefully, Sammet’s wish will come true and Avantasia will return for an extended North American Tour soon. In the meantime Ghostlights is out now, and it is a must listen.