Nightwish don’t do anything by halves so they were never going to settle for a generic living room livestream. Tonight – the first of two shows – they’re taking fans on a virtual journey across magical forests and oceans to arrive at The Islanders Arms, via retro-futuristic airship, of course.
Their steampunk tavern, complete with owl lamps and a lighthouse on top, looks like it’s been plucked from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and transported to a Disney reimagining of Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials. There are stained glass windows, flickering candles and even several trees stretching up to the domed glass roof, behind which giant screens play the sort of fantastical visuals you might have seen at one of their pre-pandemic live shows. Outside, the seasons change as though each song is a magical incantation. The band’s longtime illustrator Janne Pitkänen has been involved in some of the imagery and there are even Easter eggs for eagle-eyed fans to spot.
But wait, there’s someone new onstage! When long-serving bassist and co-vocalist Marco Hietala announced his departure in January 2021, fans wondered who on earth could replace him. He’s been a core element of Nightwish’s sound since he joined in 2001, and while session bassist Wintersun’s Jukka Koskinen duplicates his bass parts perfectly, his vocals are now split between Floor Jansen and Troy Donockley. The results are mostly positive. On Planet Hell, Jansen sings both parts brilliantly, while she and Donockley's harmonies work beautifully on 7 Days To The Wolves. However, Hietala’s vocals are sorely missed on I Want My Tears Back, which lacks its usual punch. Will things sound different in the surroundings of a packed arena? Could the band end up using a guest vocalist for those shows? We’ll have to wait and see.
Growls aren’t the only thing missing: the virtual setting means there’s no applause and the silence between songs is sometimes a little uncomfortable. We were promised a more interactive experience with fan avatars and emojis – perhaps inspired by Travis Scott’s Astronomical show in Fortnite – but sadly these aren’t available and there are no options to explore the virtual surroundings either. The absence of such ambitious elements, and the band’s trademark pyros, only make the heart grow fonder for the return of real live shows where you can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow fans.
Despite the technological limitations, Nightwish genuinely look like they’re having the best time ever and there’s no hint of the concerns Tuomas Holopainen had about their future. It’s been two and a half years since their last live show and they’ve clearly missed the stage. Tonight’s set is tight and packed with material from Human. :II: Nature., fan favourites and some surprising additions, including Harvest, Bless The Child, and a lovely acoustic rendition of How's The Heart? The intimate setting also captures friendly gestures that might have otherwise been missed; the band frequently exchange grins and nods, and Jansen even gives Koskinen a heartfelt thumbs-up during Ghost Love Score.
An Evening With Nightwish... is a magical journey and a delicious appetiser of when things can return to normal. This writer can’t wait.
She Is My Sin
7 Days To The Wolves
I Want My Tears Back
Bless The Child
How's The Heart?
Last Ride Of The Day
Ghost Love Score
Greatest Show On Earth
All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World: Ⅷ. Ad Astra