Nightwish’s “Decades” tour is a career retrospective spanning 20 years, with a setlist heavily slanted towards the band’s early material. It’s also an opportunity for singer Floor Jansen to show she can hold her own doing the more operatic material originally sung by fan favourite Tarja Turunen, but if you’ve seen the previous tour, their first with Jansen on lead vocals, you’d know she can.
I’ve never hidden the fact that I couldn’t stomach Nightwish with Turunen or Anette Olzon on vocals, but love the band with Floor. She bridges the metal and operatic sides of Nightwish’s music perfectly, and I was curious to see if she could change my mind about the early material.
The lights went out, and the back screen lit up, accompanied by droning synths that went on for close to 15 minutes, and you could feel the crowd was getting a bit restless. An announcement asking fans to put away their phones was ironically filmed by a few dozen people, and then Troy Donockley entered the stage, playing his Uilleann pipes. Soon he was joined by the band, and the show kicked off with “End of All Hope”. Sound problems would plague the first couple of songs, obscuring the vocals and Marco Hietala’s bass, but they were quickly fixed.
Many songs in the setlist hadn’t been played in more than a decade. Before this tour started, “10th Man Down” and “Gethsemane” hadn’t graced a setlist since 2003, “Elvenpath” since 2004, and you’d have to go back to 1998 to find “The Carpenter”! Hardcore fans were certainly rewarded with deep cuts, but the selection did a great job of covering Nightwish’s entire career.
The old material sounded so much better than the albums, but it would be unfair to put it down solely on Jansen’s powerful vocals. The whole band, led by bandleader Tuomas Holopainen who presides over the stage from behind his keyboards, is incredibly tight and the live sound, once fixed, had a power unmatched by the original recordings. Even the newer songs gained an energy that lifted them even higher. Marco Hietala’s vocal contributions also brought power and contrast, especially on a theatrical track like “Devil & the Deep Dark Ocean”, one of the show’s highlights.
While I remain a much bigger fan of the last two studio albums, the band sold me completely on a few old gems. “Dead Boy’s Poem”, “The Kinslayer” and “Devil & the Deep Dark Ocean” were personal favourites, but really, there wasn’t a dull moment. The show lasted about 115 minutes, but it felt like 3 hours: not because it was tedious but because it was so packed with power, without a moment wasted, that it was hard to believe the band could play 19 songs in such a short amount of time. And among those was the 20+ minute epic “The Greatest Show On Earth”, which sounded so majestic, followed by the closer “Ghost Love Score” magnificently sung by Jansen.
By an unscientific gut feeling, about two thirds of the setlist were songs the band hadn’t played previously with Jansen, and it’s safe to assume Nightwish will release another live album/video, to increase the amount of the band’s catalog available with Floor Jansen. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s also worth noting that coming in to the show, we were all handed a free copy of “Decades” on CD, an incredibly nice gesture from the band, but one that also speaks sadly to how much recorded music has been devalued in this century.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage