Words & Pictures: Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media
Ayreon to some will be a complete mystery. To others, the band formed around musical genius Arjen Lucassen, has for the last two decades delivered some of the most amazing progressive metal albums. Put simply if you know, you know. If you don’t then the fact that all three dates for the Ayreon Universe shows in Tilburg sold out within a day will come as something of a surprise. Playing to around 3,000 people per show, the first night sold out in minutes, the second in an hour and the third within a day. There was no promotion, no hype, just a link to tickets on the Facebook page for the band. That is the power and sway Arjen has over his fans and the fact that Ayreon almost never plays live shows. It’s a well-known fact that Arjen hates performing on stage, much preferring to control all aspects of the Ayreon Universe safely inside a studio. His ability to conjure up all manner of artists to work on his albums is testament to the quality of albums he delivers. For the latest Ayreon album ‘The Source’, Arjen has worked with multiple vocalists, many of whom performed during the three night series in Tilburg. Where else would you get to see Nightwish’s Floor Jansen and Marco Hietala, Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch, The Gathering / VUUR’s Anneke van Giersbergen, Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse, Toehider’s Mike Mills, Kayak’s Edward Reekers and several others?
The evening of the show saw people from dozens of different countries descend on the small town of Tilburg, chosen because as noted, it helped Lucassen stay within a small amount of his comfort zone. As the curtain dropped and Toehider’s Mike Mills appeared on stage, dressed as TH-1, the character he played in Ayreon’s latest album “The Source”, the crowd roared and set the scene for what was to be an unbelievable night of music. With lasers, a huge video screen with stunning animation and visuals, Mills commenced the show by delivering ‘Prologue’, the spoken first track from ‘The Final Experiment’.
Special mention goes to the first musician who appeared on stage, keyboard maestro Joost van den Broek. Not only did his lavish playing add depth and glorious soundscapes to the show, he was also responsible for a lot of the production of the event and was acknowledged by Arjen several times later on in the set. The production which, lighting and pyro aside, centred on the giant video screen behind the musicians and showcased all of the Ayreon albums replicating album covers and associated visuals. As new musicians walked on stage, their names were shown behind them to announce their welcome arrival to the fans.
With no support and a stage time of over two and a half hours, the show was nothing sort of glorious. For those of us in the security pit photographing the set for various publications, we were ushered in and out with regularity as we made way for multiple flame jets and CO2 cannons that added another layer to the spectacle laid out in front of us.
For people who like their music epic and their vocalists even more so, the artists on offer ticked every possible box. When you have Floor Jansen, her sister Irene and Anneke van Giersbergen performing with Jonas Renske, Hansi Kursch, Marco Hietala, Tommy Karevik and more performing as if this band was their day job then there was no room or reason for complaint.
Whilst we may have hoped for more, as expected, the show was three quarters of the way through before Arjen appeared on stage. As his name was announced in bold letters on the video screen, he stood at the top of a ramp in between the drum and keyboard risers and paused. The cheer that greeted his arrival probably startled birds flying over the windmills in Amsterdam but it was well deserved. He may not have been on stage for the bulk of the show but Ayreon would not exist without. Having just watched Kamelot’s Tommy Karevik sing alongside Hansi Kursch, Magali Luyten & Floor Jansen on ‘Everybody Dies’, Arjen almost gave himself an impossible ‘top that’ task.
Thankfully, ‘The Castle Hall’ saw him joined by Robert Soeterboek and Threshold’s Damien Wilson and instead of the shy, modest person we were all expecting, he charged around the stage making the most of all available space, playing as if ‘anxious’ or ‘recluse’ were foreign words to him. A speech to the crowd afterwards did highlight some of his reluctances about live performances but his genuine appreciation for the fans, his fellow musicians and Joost van den Broek’s production was truly heartfelt. The crowd’s response again was at bird bothering levels hundreds of miles away and resulted in him taking centre stage to sing on ‘Amazing Flight’.
To close the show, in the vein of the biggest musical event ever staged, ‘The Eye of Ra’ brought back Damien Wilson, John Jaycee Cuijpers and the Jansens once more before every musician eventually joined them onstage for one last hurrah to finish the song.
If you missed the show, you missed something special and an event that may never be repeated again (other than the following two nights). Thankfully, a DVD/Blu-Ray is forthcoming, pre-order it now, you will not be disappointed.
Prologue (with Mike Mills),
Dreamtime (with Edward Reekers),
Abbey of Synn (with Robert Soeterboek),
River of Time (with Hansi Kürsch) (With Marco Hietala),
Prologue: The Blackboard (with Marcela Bovio) (With Mike Mills),
The Theory of Everything, Part 1 (with Marcela Bovio) (With Mike Mills),
The Theory of Everything, Part 2 (with Marcela Bovio) (With Mike Mills),
Merlin’s Will (with Floor Jansen),
Waking Dreams (with Jonas Renkse) (With Anneke van Giersbergen),
Dawn of a Million Souls (with John JayCee Cuijpers),
Valley of the Queens (with Anneke van Giersbergen) (With Floor Jansen & Marcela Bovio),
Ride the Comet (with Magali Luyten) (With Jonas Renkse),
Star of Sirrah (with Mike Mills) (With Magali Luyten & Hansi Kürsch & Floor Jansen ),
Comatose (with Anneke van Giersbergen) (With Jonas Renkse and with Rob Snijders on percussion ),
Day Sixteen: Loser (with Mike Mills),
And the Druids Turn to Stone (with Damian Wilson) (With Rob Snijders on drums)
The Two Gates (with John JayCee Cuijpers) (With Damian Wilson & speech by Irene Jansen )
Into the Black Hole (with Tommy Karevik)
Actual Fantasy (with Edward Reekers)
Computer Eyes (with Robert Soeterboek) (With Edward Reekers)
Magnetism (with Marco Hietala) (With Tommy Karevik & Anneke van Giersbergen)
Age of Shadows (with Marco Hietala) (With Hansi Kürsch & Floor Jansen)
Intergalactic Space Crusaders (Star One cover) (with Peter Vink) (With Damian Wilson & Magali Luyten)
Collision (with Marco Hietala) (With Tommy Karevik)
Everybody Dies (with Mike Mills) (With Tommy Karevik & Hansi Kürsch & Magali Luyten & Floor Jansen )
The Castle Hall (with Arjen Anthony Lucassen) (With Robert Soeterboek & Damian Wilson)
Amazing Flight (with Jay van Feggelen) (With Arjen Anthony Lucassen)
Day Eleven: Love (with Edward Reekers) (With Marcela Bovio & Robert Soeterboek & Irene Jansen & Lisette van den Berg )
The Eye of Ra (Star One cover) (With all singers)