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Avantasia - O2 Forum Kentish Town, London (UK) - 16 April 2019

Given the fact that I was sadly unable to attend the last Avantasia tour date in the UK, that I am not much of a festival person these days (especially festivals abroad in places like Germany) and most significantly that Avantasia represent the very definition of a super-group with many famous (and often busy) singers/contributors, I had regretfully all but conceded I would be pretty lucky if I ever got another chance to see Tobias Sammet & Co. on the live stage. Thankfully, the powers that be decided differently and it's a statement of the obvious to say I was as rather excited and exceptional thrilled when those lovely folks at Nuclear Blast last year announced a full Avantasia world tour for 2019 that included one date in London. It was made all the better by the fact that it was a few days before my birthday!

I expected it to be rather packed for this show and upon my arrival, the long queue outside confirmed that assumption. Once inside, I was able to stake a claim to a decent spot on the main floor (which was kindly held by another fan during my two trips to the merch stand for a t-shirt, the second visit required due to the fact they had already sold out of some prints – including the one I really wanted – before the show had even started) and awaited the start of the gig. Tonight was unusual in that there was no support band – the length of the performance no doubt being the reason – and whilst I have enjoyed several warm-up acts over the years and gone on to become a fan of them, there was something very refreshing about the lack of one tonight and the fact we would get straight into the main course. At around half past seven, Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 9 (Ode To Joy)' erupted from the speakers and the anticipation noticeably rose within the audience. The curtain then dropped and the moment I had eagerly awaited for many months had arrived. I hope you will forgive me for not offering a detailed track by track account. As it lasted over three hours with twenty-four songs, which included the expected multiple guests and many wonderful or fantastic moments, a full blow by blow review would rival 'Game Of Thrones' or 'Lord Of The Rings' in length.

The show opened with just Sammet on vocals for the awesome 'Ghost In The Moon' (also the opening track for the new album 'Moonglow'). Much like my colleague Ian Johnson who reviewed the album for the latest issue of 'Fireworks', this ten-minute song is one of the best I have heard in recent times. It also set the tone nicely for the rest of the gig, especially in the entertainment and honesty stakes when Sammet confessed early on that he had "forgotten the fucking words" which prompted a ripple of amusement throughout the audience. The friend I attend with stated his outfit reminded her of the Child Catcher from 'Oliver Twist'; I had promised this was always going to be as much a stage show as a concert after all! From then on in, with just one exception, it was guest after guest.

Even the three backing singers who stayed on stage throughout were not merely unknown session performers; this trio was made up of Herbie Langhans (Radiant, Voodoo Circle, Sinbreed, Seventh Avenue), Ina Morgan (Chris Norman Band) and the multi-talented Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Wings Of Plague, Light & Shade, FirstBourne). The flow of new songs continued with three more from the new record. Pretty Maids' Ronnie Atkins was the first to descend to the main stage to join Sammet for 'Starlight' and 'Book Of Shadows'. The latter saw Cowan step to the front the cover the harsh vocals that were performed by Mille Petrozza (Kreator) on the studio version and she really let rip! I am ashamed to say prior to this gig I was unfamiliar with Cowan, but she impressed me so much tonight that I will be taking some time in the upcoming weeks to find out more about this fabulous lady. The vocal powerhouse that is Jørn Lande was next to grace the stage for 'The Raven Child' (the last of the opening quartet of new songs) and 'Lucifer', and he was welcomed with loud chants of "Jørn, Jørn" which showed just how loved this Nordic Rock Giant is loved by the Avantasia fans.

Queensrÿche man Geoff Tate then took over for two more from 'Moonglow' in 'Alchemy' and 'Invincible' before Oliver Hartmann was given a bigger spotlight for 'Reach Out For The Light'. The show then hit a real purple patch for me personally. Cowan once again took on a great share of work as she added her clean vocals to the delightful 'Moonglow' which proceed the appearance of Mr. Big's Eric Martin for the band's rendition of 'Maniac' (one of the highlights of the night where the whole venue lent their voices) and one of my personal Avantasia favourites 'Dying For An Angel' (another evening highlight). At this point it hadn't gone unnoticed to me that a specific member of the Avantasia family hadn't appeared as yet and to a tumultuous applause the legendary "Uncle" Bob Catley finally made his presence felt for 'Lavender' and 'The Story Ain't Over'. Much like Lande, the were several chants of "Bob, Bob" from the crowd whenever he arrived on stage and the love for this Rock much loved showman was clearly on display.

With all the guests having now made an entrance, this wonderful gig rattled along in much the same fashion. The remainder of the set consisted of 'The Scarecrow' (Lande), 'Promised Land' (Lande and Martin but without Sammet), 'Twisted Mind' (Tate and Martin but without Sammet), 'Avantasia' (Tate), 'Let The Storm Descend Upon You' (Lande aided by Atkins), 'Master Of The Pendulum' (Atkins), 'Shelter From The Rain' (Catley assisted by Langhans and Morgan) and 'Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose' (Catley). The main set finished out much like it started via the only other non-guest offering... one of my overall favourite Avantasia tracks 'Lost In Space'. The was time for the usual encore which found Cowan given a final opportunity to grace the audience with her talents through 'Farewell' before the whole stage filled with absolutely everybody for 'Sign Of The Cross'/'The Seven Angels'.

I can state enough just how fantastic this show was. I could fill another page listing all the little moments that mattered to me personally or were highlights in general. Firstly, it was the first time I had seen Sammet on the live stage and he really was something special. There was plenty of little chats to the audience, a never-ending amount of effort and encouragement from his to tease every bit of enthusiasm and fun from the crowd, plenty of amusing interludes, he sounded great vocally and overall was every bit the Rockstar and performer I had expected; that is all before you get to the fact that having spoken to and meet him for interviews, he is also a wonderful, honest and genuine person as well. It was a joy to finally see the Metal Master Sascha Paeth in the flesh, to have an opportunity to see Martin and Tate on the live stage for the first time, and to finally see Catley and Lande perform live once again. The stage layout was top-draw with an upper-level layout and the guests appearing from the back at the top rather than giving the game away to some by coming from the wings. It had a lovely design, great backdrops and fine visuals overall. I was a touch sad the show/tour didn't include the delightful Amanda Somerville and there were a couple of songs I would have loved to have heard that didn't make the set ('Sleepwalking' and 'The Wicked Symphony'), but to be fair they really are small, personal things to me; you can't expect a particular make of wine at a meal and be disappointed if it doesn't arrive when you have been served such an enormous, extravagant and exemplary feast.

I attended this show with some seriously immense expectations and rarely do you find those are met in situations like this... but Sammet and his Avantasia crew did just that tonight. The sound was great, the visual experience was a joy, the guests gave it their all, the musicians played wonderfully; it all combined to deliver a truly inspiring and gratifying experience. It has only been a week since the concert and I need more time to truly absorb everything I witnessed, but at present this show has to rank as one of my all-time favourites. Having guests on a whole tour is nothing new, a super-group touring is not exactly unusual or unheard of and a taking a big stage show on the road has been done enough times but getting this many genuine stars and legends together for long enough to tour the world is something quite special indeed. If you ever get a chance, whether you are an Avantasia fan or not, to see Sammet & Company perform live, I can only stress in the strongest possible terms that you should take up the offer. I had as much fun and enjoyment as I could handle tonight, and I take my hat off to Sammet and everyone involved in putting this together – you delivered one hell of a special night!

Review by Dave Scott

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