The scene: The Ogden Theater, Friday the 28th. Andrew, Ian, and I were standing in the middle of the ground floor, next to the area with the sound and light boards. My ears were still ringing after hearing Kamelot's opening set, which was some serious fuckin' metal; they even played a couple of songs I recognized, "Ghost Opera" and "March of Mephisto." The stagehands were busy removing their equipment and preparing for the main act: Nightwish. This was the concert I'd been waiting for. I'd even spotted Marco out in the alley earlier, as I was waiting in line for the will-call window; he was busy filming an interview of some sort.
Suddenly, two familiar figures appeared on stage: Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist and composer for the band, and Troy Donockley, the piper that featured so heavily as a guest on Imaginaerum, and before that, on "The Islander" and "Last of the Wilds." The room erupted in cheers.
Tuomas raised a finger to his lips, signaling for quiet. (He doesn't speak much in public.)
"That means a lot to us," said Troy, before launching into the bad news: Anette, the lead singer, was very sick, had been violently vomiting, and was being rushed over to the hospital as we speak. However, a backup plan of sorts was being worked out. Elise Ryd, backup vocalist for Kamelot, had volunteered to step in and sing what she could, and the band would count on our help with the rest. He put it to a show of hands. I raised both my hands; the theater was a sea of raised hands.
The crowd had spoken. The show would go on.
Now, sometimes, incidents like this result in disaster.
But sometimes--sometimes--this is when magic happens.
The lights finally went down; the music from Crimson Tide, Nightwish's intro, started playing. The cheers went up from the theater as, on the dimly-lit stage, the musicians took their places. Tuomas, at stage left with his keyboards. Jukka, back center behind the drum kit. Marco and Emppu, their axes ready, up front.
Tuomas began the piano intro to "Storytime," the rest of the band coming in on cue. And, out on the stage, lyric sheets clutched in their hands, walked not only Elise but Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist, a guest vocalist Kamelot had brought on stage. And they--and we--began to sing. Now, "Storytime" is a powerful piece of music, and not easy to sing, but we were all there for her. I felt as if I were trying to lend her energy, to project the words to her, to support her as she took on no easy task. And I think a lot of other people did, too. The orchestral C-section of that song is just tremendous; I felt filled with power, almost as if I were trying to levitate off the floor. All around me, the chants rose as arms were lifted in the air. Then the instrumental break ended, we rose our voices as a choir would, and began the last chorus: "I am the voice of Never-Never Land..."
The song crashed to a triumphant end, and as the cheers rang out, the band swung right into their well-known "Wish I Had An Angel." Only problem was, as the first verse began, the vocals were a bit off...Elise had started singing "Amaranth" by mistake. The band stopped the song, and Marco got her straightened out; I think she'd just picked the wrong lyric sheet off the floor. Tuomas played the opening chord again, Jukka tapped two quick hi-hat beats, and the band started again. This time, all went forward correctly. Then, after the song pulled to a halt, Tuomas struck up the keyboard intro to "Amaranth," probably the band's biggest recent hit. Elise finally got to sing the lyrics she'd started out wrong on, and coped pretty well with this one, too.
I'm not gonna sugarcoat it; Elise's performance wasn't exactly up to Anette's standards. She missed entries; she mangled lyrics; her timing and pitch weren't always up to par. But I don't think the crowd minded. I know I certainly didn't; I was keeping pace with her, still trying my best to project strength to her. After "Amaranth," she left the stage (possibly for some more quick rehearsals?) as the band launched into "Scaretale," for which Marco sang all the lyrics. He does sing the middle section of that song, where it goes all humppa; as the song got past the first bit, he quipped, "Okay, now we're coming to the part of the song I know." There are plenty of instrumental breaks in the song, too, so the vocal performance wasn't as critical. And we were there to help him, too.
Troy Donockley took the stage, joking, "I had to change my Pampers earlier," referring to his initial delivery of the bad news about Anette. The band launched into a familiar (to us) three-measure guitar intro, and Marco and we all sang together, "I want my tears back!" For this one, Marco didn't try to sing Anette's parts, but we in the audience filled in...then Marco joined us for his half of the chorus, and the lines, "I want my tears back! I want my tears back now!" Then Marco and Emppu traded their guitars for acoustic ones, Jukka came forward and sat on a box he could pound, and the band, Troy included, started the folk-metal track "The Islander." Marco threatened those of us with cellphones right before the song, then had us all whip 'em out, light the screens, and raise them in the air. We sang with him as he spun the tale of an elderly seaman now tending a lighthouse; I even found myself singing something closer to Anette's vocal line of the chorus, as if to summon her spirit to be with us. The band launched into an extended instrumental entry to "Last of the Wilds," on which there are no vocals, so no real difference there.
The next track, "Planet Hell," had us singing, not Anette's parts, but Tarja's parts that Anette would have sung had she been there. Fortunately, I was able to take out my phone, call up the track, and display the lyrics so I didn't make a mistake. "Save yourself a penny for the ferryman, save yourself and let them suffer!" we all sang, then Marco stopped as I and others continued, "In hope, in love, this world ain't ready for the Ark..." For friends of McKenzie, a fan who had passed on (there were people in the audience wearing T-shirts with "RIP McKenzie" on the front and "Nightwish Fan" on the back, the band played what Marco called "a world premiere, we've never done this one live before," the track "Rest Calm." He omitted Anette's lyrics in that version, too, but we picked them right up.
For the next song, Marco called Elise back out, as well as Troy. Now, Nightwish has been doing "Nemo" on this tour, but as an acoustic version (which I've seen on YouTube; it was powerful yet understated). Tonight, however, they launched into the regular live version, bobbled lyrics and all. But at least I got to chant "NIGHT-wish! NIGHT-wish! NIGHT-wish!" over the bridge, just as I had in 2008 with Anette leading us all.
The band finished with Troy playing a short Irish selection called "Mug of Brown Ale," and, I swear, Elise started dancing an Irish jig there on stage! Okay, Riverdance it was...not, but the crowd liked it. This segued into their Gary Moore cover, "Over the Hills And Far Away," and one last opportunity for us to raise our voices with Nightwish in song. Many hugs were exchanged on stage, as the band--all seven of them, counting both Elise and Alissa--took a bow. They exited to the sounds of cheers and the "Imaginaerum" overture, and we exited the theater to find our way home, after what felt to me like the closest thing to a "religious experience" I'd felt.
So what conclusions can be drawn from this for mortal man? Three of them, in my opinion:
Now...when does Imaginaerum (the movie) play in the States?
UPDATE: Welcome, readers from Russia, Finland, and Italy! Please see my followup post as well.