Nightwish/Kamelot in Austin: Karevik and Jansen Hit Their Stride
I figured I’d follow up my previous blog entry about Anette Olzon’s abrupt departure from Nightwish with something a little more positive and music related, namely, a few quick thoughts about the Nightwish/Kamelot performance on October 10th at Emo’s in Austin, Texas. By now forums, Reddit, and a ton of other places online have been filling up with talk of just how Floor Jansen and Tommy Karevik have been handling their new roles respectively as the vocalists of Nightwish and Kamelot. To be accurate, Karevik has had a longer gestation period (going on a few months) as Roy Khan’s official replacement — Jansen has had a scant ten days and seven shows to acclimate herself to her new role and the band’s setlist. Most fans are understanding of this fact, knowing that over time and subsequent performances, she’d get better and find the right vocal approach for each song, but this being the internet, there have been a fair share of grumblers, nit-pickers, and cries for Tarja. I went into Wednesday night’s show with a mind to focus on both Karevik and Jansen in particular and to try to just come away with a honest fan’s take.
Kamelot was first, walking out in front of a backdrop of the cover of their upcoming “Silverthorn” release. They started off with what struck me as a surprise, two songs from the Ghost Opera record followed immediately by “The Great Pandemonium” from their most recent, Poetry for the Poisoned. There’s nothing inherently wrong about those choices but you’d figure that a band on tour with a new vocalist would try to shoot from the earlier classic era material straight off the bat in a fast approach to try to win over skeptics. Regardless, from the word go Karevik blew me away with his near perfect singing, seemingly effortless reach of higher registers, and his ability to inflect emotion into all the requisite moments that Roy Khan had so pinned down on the records.
The band surprised me by bringing out “Seasons End” for this tour, a bonus track left off the initial non-Japanese Ghost Opera releases and one of the band’s true gems. Karevik and guest touring vocalist Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) sang together a powerful rendition of the song and traded off solo A cappella sections of the refrain towards the end only to join back in together for one ultimate climactic chorus. The rest of Kamelot’s short set (they were opening after all) was excellent, but it was “Seasons End” that really sold me on their choice of Karevik — at least as a live vocalist. I hate to say it, because I love the mighty Khan, but Karevik really did appear to be a genuinely better vocalist on stage, and as a frontman he was engaging and didn’t miss a cue and just as importantly he seems to have calmed down on his European tour habits of trying to over hype the crowd. Now comes the album on October 30th, the final test.
As for Nightwish, I got the feeling from talking to people in the line outside and in the crowd in the venue that most fans in attendance were pretty much fine with the decision to replace vocalists mid-tour, generally not out of any real malice towards Olzon but just out of the simple satisfaction of being able to see the band live at all. Nightwish has toured the States before, but the tours have been few and far between, and who knows how many years it will be even before the next Nightwish album is out. The fact that the tour wasn’t canceled was seen as something of a miracle by those who were aware of the details of the band’s recent situation. As far as thoughts about the new vocalist… I saw a few After Forever shirts out there, but got the impression that most people didn’t know all that much about Floor Jansen.
So I’ll go out on a limb here and say something blunt that might bite me in the ass later down the line: I think Nightwish have found their permanent vocalist. If its not Floor Jansen, then they might as well just openly state that they’ll be using a rotating cast of female singers from this point onwards. She was not only surprisingly great, but there were stunningly amazing moments such as on “Ever Dream” where she delivered the song’s chorus in its true to original spirit of ever increasing high notes. I looked over to the right side of the stage during those moments to see Nightwish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen grinning in reaction in what appeared to be genuine surprise. Jansen was recovering from a cold during the first few shows of this tour but she said in a recent online posting that she’s now able to belt everything out at her full capacity. It certainly sounded that way.
The biggest surprise of the night was an airing of the “Once” album cut and fan favorite “Ghost Love Score”, which hadn’t been played since 2009. Interestingly enough my view was somewhat blocked at this point by longtime Nightwish manager Ewo Pohjola who quietly slipped into the audience to watch the band try its first attempt at performing this song with Jansen. They pulled it off, as well as the rest of the largely Imaginaerum based set list. The only moment that could be pointed out for possibly losing the crowd was “Slow Love Slow”, which works incredibly well on the album with all its moody subtleties, but doesn’t seem to translate as well live. My only other gripe would have to be the morphing of “Nemo” into an acoustic rendition, as opposed to the full dramatic flair of the original. With a singer that good, you should let her open up on your biggest hit — just saying.