By Justin Richardson
Another annual ProgPower USA trek began with binge-listening to bands on the roster for about two weeks before the show. The ProgPower festival has been a part of my life for the past 11 years and through it I’ve seen many bands that I would have otherwise never had an opportunity to see. As the festival has grown, the Wednesday and Thursday before the official start of ProgPower have managed to become additional shows. One of the biggest was the Helloween/Gamma Ray/Manticora shows a few years back. Some years, the Wednesday show has merely been karaoke, but other times it has been used to showcase special shows like the acoustic Evergrey set last year. Thursdays started out as a quick pre-show event huddled under The Tabernacle (a medium sized venue in the heart of Atlanta), with some shitty local bands, and has blossomed into become a showcase of up-and-comers and special events.
This year those shows were scrapped in favour of a deal with Power Metal juggernauts Kamelot and Nightwish. On Wednesday and Thursday the bands would play different setlists for the ProgPower crowd to help usher in this year’s festival. Two big questions loomed for many: How different would the setlists actually be? And how well would the bands perform, considering how both were working without the singers that helped to establish their sound?
Kamelot, a long-time veteran of the ProgPower festival, was reeling from the departure of Khan since their last appearance at the festival. Michael Eriksen, singer for Circus Maximus, filled in for that absence along with a slew of other guests. Seventh Wonder’s Tommy Karevik was one of those guests, and that appearance and professionalism seems to have won over Kamelot founder Thomas Youngblood. Even though the tour for Poetry for the Poisoned featured other guest vocalists and many were unsure as to who would take up the vocal reins, it was Tommy they chose in the end. His vocal chops weren’t in question; but how would he stack up against the mighty Khan when performing set after set?
There was one big disappointment with Kamelot, and that was the fact that they were only given 45 minutes for a set. I was under the false impression that the bands would be given a little more equal footing in terms of time allowance. However, with that in mind, the band still did great in the time they had. While I would have loved some pre-Karma material, I understand that the band is probably using this tour as a way to hit a larger market. Hell, speaking of ‘early’ material, Youngblood has even said that most fans that come out to the shows pretty much stare into the abyss when the band plays anything pre-Black Halo. So the chance of “Across the Highlands” or “Call of the Sea” is pretty much nil at this point, unless the band decides to do a special show or tour. This is also a tour that will be used to really ingrain the reality of Tommy as the new singer into die-hard Khan fans. It will take a lot to win over the holdouts, but Tommy completely nailed each song. While he channeled a bit of Khan into his singing and performing, Tommy isn’t a Khan-clone either, and his natural charisma and tones came through perfectly. You’d be a fool not to recognize his talent and the youthful energy he’s bringing back to the band.
Kamelot also recruited Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd for many of the songs’ female bits. The Agonist’s Alissa White-Gluz also appeared to cover Shagrath’s vocals on “March of Mephisto” as well as her portion of singing on “Sacrimony”, a new song from the upcoming Silverthorn album. Between the two nights, the setlist covered all albums between Karma and Silverthorn except for Poetry for the Poisoned. Overall I was happy with the song choices for both nights. Are there some songs I would have preferred to hear over others? Of course. But unless the day comes that I get to personally choose a setlist for Kamelot, I will always want a few other songs. Hopefully Kamelot will get to do their own headlining tour through the USA sometime soon and we’ll get a longer setlist. I feel that Tommy is a perfect fit for the band and look forward to seeing the direction they take the band over the next few years. The future looks bright for these guys.
After a fairly quick set change, Nightwish took the stage, opening with “Storytime” off their most recent album Imaginaerum. The last time I saw Nightwish was at ProgPower IV way back in 2003 with Tarja. Although I’ve listened to both of the Anette albums, I haven’t had the opportunity to see them live with her. While I like the last two albums fine, they really didn’t have the same draw for me as the previous ones. But after seeing a lot of the songs performed live, I feel that Anette’s charismatic ways may have sold me. One thing I’ve always really enjoyed about Nightwish is their fearlessness when it comes to incorporating new sounds. The latest foray being “Slow, Love, Slow,” a piece that throws you back into a speakeasy in the prohibition era of the United States. I was pleasantly surprised to hear them nail it both nights. And bagpipes? Let’s not forget those! The band isn’t using a backing track for those on this tour. They’ve brought Troy Donockley to play quite a few songs live. ‘The Islander,’ “I Want My Tears Back,” and a handful of others including an acoustic rendition of “Nemo”. Anette seemed to have some issues with hitting notes on “Nemo”, but I suspect this was due to rearrangement and some jetlag. They also paid tribute to Mr. Gary Moore and played fan-favourite “Over the Hills and Far Away”. I love the original and I love Nightwish’s version. Since I’ll never see the original played, I can easily settle for Nightwish taking care of it. Marco Hietala was in his usual jovial form, joking with the audience and generally helping work the crowd. (Can’t get enough of that guy’s voice — If you’ve never listened to his long-running band, Tarot, you would do yourself a service to check that out).
The band was having fun, the audience was having fun, but for a brief moment there was a somber memory: that of Marc Brueland, a fan and friend of Nightwish, who died of a rare form of cancer only months after managing to fight off his illness enough to see the band perform at ProgPower IV. The band’s “Higher than Hope” is dedicated to him, and the dedication was made once again by Tuomas and Anette with Marc’s mother and sister in attendance. It’s a bittersweet moment for sure. I am extremely happy that I was there for that show many years ago to see Marc have his dream realized before he passed on. And I’m equally happy that I saw the moment recognized once more many years later in the same venue and at the same festival.
Both Kamelot and Nightwish were fantastic for the opening nights in Atlanta. Their current North American tour is going on right now, so if you’re near one of the dates you should totally not miss such a fantastic lineup. It was a great start for ProgPower XIII and solidified the mood that remained for the next few nights of the festival.