Stratovarius with Pagan’s Mind
Local openers – Borealis, Lords of Hera
Sept. 18th, 2009 @ The Opera House
Review and pics by EvilG
It’s not often you get to see one of your favorite bands for the FIRST time. Such was the case with my trip to see Stratovarius in Toronto.
Before we dive into the review, a note about the format… As you may notice, the pics, while passable, are not incredible like the ones you’ll find in most of our other live reviews. This is because I do not usually photograph live shows since I live in the wastelands where no bands visit and as such have no real experience taking live photos. As well, even though I did have a photo pass, there was no special front of stage area to get up close to try for awesome shots.
Lastly, this review will not only cover the performances but will review the experience and treatment that we received as VIP ticket holders.
The Stratovarius VIP ticket gave us a spanky “Premium Access” laminate which we received at the door upon entry. The VIP ticket cost $70 – more than double the price of a normal ticket to the concert. Sadly, despite emailing both the promoter, the ticket seller (EnterTheVault.com), and the Opera House, details were not provided until the evening before the concert by the promoter. Maybe that’s normal practice but when you’re traveling, and spending that much for a ticket, it’s not cool at all.
We knew of course that the VIP pass meant we were going to meet the band and get early entry to the concert to obtain premium vantage points. What we didn’t know until the day before was that VIP entry would be 15mins before main doors opened at 8pm. So we showed up at 7:50pm to find the main line moving in. We went to the front of the line and said “We have VIP tickets, and were supposed to be let in 15mins before main doors.” The reply was, “You have to go to the end of the line now as we’ve started to let people in”. Fair enough….to the back of the line we went and after about 10mins we were in the venue. Although the laminate says “priority access to merchandise booth”, this wasn’t available, nor was it necessary as the merchandise line upon entry was only 2-3 people. So as to keep things chronological, I’ll return to the review of the VIP experience after coverage of the bands.
The opening band, Borealis, seem to have developed a following or have at least a good number of friends who are excited about seeing them live which is more than the last time when I saw them at the same venue a couple years earlier. The band remind me a little of Evergrey because of the mid-range melodic vocals, not because of the music so much. As with the last time I saw them, they were decent but not memorable.
Lords of Hera
The next band on the bill were Lords of Hera. I’ve no problem with local openers, but I was not happy with there being THREE opening bands before Stratovarius. Since Stratovarius already had an opening band with them, I think having just the two bands playing would have been plenty. I wasn’t here for a 5hour standing marathon or festival. Ugh…but whatever. Lords of Hera were also decent with the female lead singer’s hair-whipping being the highlight along with the shredding of the lead guitarist. Again, a decent opening band that shows promise once they get more experience.
Next up was Norway’s prog/power metallers, Pagan’s Mind. I wasn’t overly familiar with the band’s Stargate-themed metal but I had heard a couple of their albums before the show. I can say that these guys really have their stuff and live performance together. The level of professionalism was very clearly raised after seeing the two openers. The vocals of Nils K. Rue were coming through loud and clear and he effortlessly hit all the high notes and really impressed me. The other surprise was the lead playing of Jørn Viggo Lofstad (also in Jørn) who despite looking like a 7ft tall giant, who for some unknown reason likes to sling his guitar to his knees, was on fire with his lead playing. The only song that dragged was the David Bowie cover “Hallo Spaceboy” (also released on their 2007 album GOD’s EQUATION). Their own songs were much more interesting and sounded better than the cover. If you like progressive power metal, than do yourself a favor and check them out both on CD and live if given the opportunity.
After Pagan’s Mind it was finally time for the reason why we had traveled well over 2000km’s to Toronto – Stratovarius! The lights went down, the crowd roared, and the familiar opening melody to “Destiny” was piped over the PA. After the intro, the band cut in and right away fists were raised and grins were ear to ear. The enthusiasm levels went to 11 when Timo Kotipelto ran onto the stage and began singing “The times are changing so fast…”. Awesome! The breakdown in the middle of the song were Timo’s vocals stand alone beginning with the line “Let your spirit free”, gave goosebumps, his vocals had all the power of the album and hearing it live this loud was overwhelming. The opening song was followed by two more ass kickers with the happy sing along chorus of “Hunting High and Low” and the intense “Speed of Light”. Only after the first three songs did the band pause for Timo to speak a few worlds of welcome before they launched into the next song.
The exact order of the songs might not 100% match what I have listed at the end of this review, but it’s close. There were many highlights of the set. Hearing new POLARIS (2009) material such as “Deep Unknown”, “Winter Skies”, and “Forever is Today” was of course great! The only song that I thought was odd to include was “Twilight Symphony” from FOURTH DIMENSION (1995). If they were gonna play something from that album, a more obvious choice would have been “Against the Wind”. Thankfully they didn’t play anything from their lackluster 2005 self-titled album.
Around the middle of the set was the bass/guitar solo featuring bassist Lauri Porra and the band’s new guitar maestro Matias Kupiainen. Rather than just shred and show off their stuff, the pair did a playful back and forth thing which included a short section of Rush’s classic 2112. Lauri looked like he was having a ball, sucking back on a few mouthfuls of beer and briefly playing his bass with the beer bottle as a slide to the amusement of many.
After a few more songs the band was of course called out for an encore (are encores really encores anymore if they play them at all venues? hmmmm…). The closing song was not red, blue, yellow, or green….it was black…as in “Black Diamond”. It was introduced by a lengthened keyboard solo by arguably the best keyboardist in metal, Jens Johansson. A Stratovarius show would not be complete without this song of course as it’s easily one of their best. After the last notes faded the five members came to the front of the stage and did something different from what I’ve seen other bands do for a closer…they got the entire audience to count to four…in Finnish! Of course there was a bit of stuff like “We played in a ‘little’ city called New York last night and I think they were louder…” which of course got people to count again…louder. It sounds kinda silly, but it was fun if you were there. After the final four count the band did their bows and left the stage to a satisfied audience. If you at all like Stratovarius, then for sure you would be pleased by the energy and song selection given to fans. This ranks up there as one of the better performances I’ve seen from any band…awesome!
After the show those of us with VIP passes stuck around to meet the band. The first two members to emerge were Lauri and Jens. Lauri seemed very happy to meet everyone and went around with a big smile saying hello to the 30 or so fans that were lucky enough to have a VIP pass. The rest of the band soon followed and they were ushered to a table. The first half of this was well organized with the promoter(?) handing out a small poster for everyone to get signed. A line formed and everyone got to speak to each member as their posters were signed. I admit to being a fanboy and was lost for words when I got to Timo Kotipelto (he is after all one of my favorite vocalists). I managed to say “great show” and that was about it..ha!
The promoter said that we could take photos after the signing. This is where things sort of fell apart. He kinda vanished and didn’t monitor this part and it was a haphazard mess with people surrounding and hogging the members while others took pics. There was one annoying guy there who MANY were ready to deck because he was standing to the side of the band and leaning in on all the photos for people he didn’t even know….what a dick! One person finally noticed and said “Excuse me guy on the right, I don’t know who you are and I don’t want you in my photos”. Good on her!! If the promoter was paying attention this would of never happened and the fanatics trying to hog and pester the band members would have been moved along UNTIL everyone had a chance to get proper photos. That aside, although it was a unorganized mess, people managed despite the chaos. The band hung around about about another 15 mins despite just coming off stage from a near 2hr set from which they must have been tired.
In any case, despite my minor complaints about the disorder, it was worth it to get to meet the band…a band that I’ve loved for over a decade and finally got the opportunity to see!
(from memory so it might be slightly wrong)
Hunting High and Low
Speed of Light
The Kiss of Judas
Million Light Years Away
Guitar & Bass Solo
Forever is Today
Official Stratovarius Website: www.stratovarius.com
Official Pagan’s Mind Website: www.pagansmind.com