Stratovarius @ Nokia Theatre Times Square (9/16/2009)

Logo - Stratovarius

Artist: Stratovarius
Venue: Nokia Theatre Times Square (New York, NY)
Opener: Pagan’s Mind, Ethereality
Date: 9/16/2009
Label: Armoury Records

Even though I had missed the last time that Stratovarius toured around these parts it has still been a few years since they were able to come back and do some gigs and this is based on the band being in a bit of a limbo for awhile. This status first came from guitarist Timo Tolki who eventually decided that he was done and that the band had been broken up, but when Timo Kotipelto informed the world that they were indeed alive and breathing and that music would continue, it was just a matter of time before the right player was found to replace the now absent Tolki. Tonight the scene of the action would be the Nokia Theatre in Times Square where the band would present their newest material from the smoking “Polaris” CD along with their long revered classics and introduce us all to their new guitarist Matias Kupianen. They would be touring with Pagan’s Mind as direct support and our area show found some local boys from New Jersey called Ethereality kicking off the fun. Here is how the night went down.

Ethereality: Delivering Melodic Progressive Metal Straight out of New Jersey came these local openers who we have seen wandering about at a number of Metal shows over the past few years. Sadly I would never catch them doing their thing until this evening so I was happy to find them opening up this bill for a band like Stratovarius. I felt if they were on their game and had the crowd behind them that they would do right by themselves and make a great amount of new friends. I had enjoyed their extended EP about a year ago and found their musicianship to be higher than your typical band of the same age group and when they hit the stage this evening they were handling it like pros. They performed tightly and smiled at the audience when not finding themselves totally focused on their instruments. The group features the Lustig siblings on bass and keyboards and singer/guitarist Rick Pohly who was regularly engaging the crowd with a great level of enthusiasm about being here for them. Their music sounded great and bears a strong Progressive vibe like earlier mentioned but there is also a smooth aspect to its overall groove that I really enjoyed. There are moments of technical precision but nothing overpowering or risking listener boredom, and at the end of the set they were drawing in fantastic applause which was nice to bear witness to. I wish these young keepers of the flame the best of luck in their quest to secure a recording contract going forward.

Pagan’s Mind: After hearing 2005’s “Enigmatic Calling” and the 2003 release “Celestial Entrance”, one cannot deny that as far as Progressive Metal band go, that Pagan’s Mind is one of the top groups offering it up. Their appearance here tonight and on the Stratovarius tour was preceded by a Prog-Metal festival that was held down South and now with that over with it was time to get down to business in the city that never sleeps for the very first time in their career. I had to admit that much of the buzz about the Stratovarius tour seemed to be half focused on the fact that it was bringing Pagan’s Mind along and that was a good thing to see happening and was bound to make for some exciting memories for the numerous fans that this group has. The band is fronted by Nils Rue, who is one of the finer Metal screamers out there and he was handling the stage as if his band were the main act and not Stratovarius. The Norwegian band was impressive from the moment they took the stage and certainly seemed to enjoy the response and praise they were getting from the crowd as songs like “God’s Equation” and “Atomic Firelight” showed what the band was made of. Nils periodically spoke to the audience and expressed his gratitude for their response and interest and I had to admit that for a first time in the city they were going over like gangbusters. The set would be a short one sadly and while I had enjoyed the music from the local openers Ethereality, I had felt that they should have started earlier in order to allow for Pagan’s Mind to have just a slightly longer set. After all, this is the accommodation we should be giving to a signed act in the first place. They would close out with “Alien Kamikaze” but a few numbers before this came the David Bowie classic “Hallo Spaceboy”, which I had to admit was a number I never thought I would see a Power Metal band doing. Of course I should not have been all that surprised since we did find Firewind doing the Disco classic “Maniac” on their last offering. I think in the end it just goes to show how the Metal bands are never short on ideas in how they will surprise us with their music time and time again. Albeit a short one, this was a well-rounded set from Pagan’s Mind and while Stratovarius was coming up next there were a lot of fans who mingled around the merchandise booth in the hope of meeting the guys and getting them to sign their CD’s or take some photographs. I caught sight of this and noticed how the guys very kindly obliged anyone who asked. The band was also selling a new live DVD but I did not catch the name of it but will be sure to try and get a copy for review sometime in the future. Let’s hope that they come back for a headlining or even better support slot than tonight because they definitely deserve to be seen by more people who support this genre. Now it was time for the slightly rebuilt Stratovarius to take the stage, and the giant banner hanging on the back of the stage made sure that we knew who was closing up the night’s fun.

Stratovarius: Having heard and enjoyed the newest album “Polaris” very, very much, I was confident about the bands ability to move on and continue to rock even after Timo Tolki had left their roster and pretty much lost all interest in the bands future existence. They would hit the stage with the energetic opening tune of “Destiny” and then cover hallowed ground by their ever popular tune “Hunting High And Low” and from the reaction of the audience this was a night that was surely off to a good start in terms of Stratovarius material was concerned. I’ve always enjoyed Timo Kotipelto’s voice and felt he was one of Power Metal’s most impressive of front men and really someone who appeared to having as much fun doing what he did on the stage as his eager fans were out in the audience. As the show progressed I was interested in seeing just how well or not that the new blood in the band on guitar would be received by the crowd who were very clearly all Tolki fans and from the moment that Matias Kupiainen began doing his thing it was apparent that he was accepted and appreciated by the bands fans. Let’s face it, Tolki made the decision to move on and leave the name behind; are the fans expected to do the same or are they expected to support the other members and continue to enjoy what they put out there for us. I would go with the latter if you asked me.

Given the strength behind the “Polaris” release I was happy to find them delivering four numbers from it for us all to absorb. They delivered the rocking “Higher We Go” and my supreme favorite from the album “Forever Is Today” along with the solemn pounding of “Winter Skies” but they would leave out another choice number of my preference by not doing “Blind”. Oh well, perhaps on their next go round whenever it is that they choose to come back. During the set it seemed as though Matias was comfortable in these new Metal shoes but depending on your vantage point you could see him keeping in visual pace with both bassist Lauri and keyboardist Jens. He was focused on his playing tonight and while showcasing some flair opted to leave the running around like mad to Kotipelto and Porra. The drums from Jorg Michael were nothing less than thunderous this evening and the skin basher was fooling many into thinking it someone else behind the sunglasses and bandana he was sporting. Having only seen the band once before I simply chose to answer those who posed the question with “you never know what some of these bands will do”. It was him of course and he performed exceptionally well, driving the players in front of him to play harder and better. Also really stepping up to the plate was no longer new bassist Lauri Porra, who proved to be a very animated player himself as much as a powerful backing vocalist. It adds to the material quite a bit and he was playing to the audience almost as much as Kotipelto was. The night was loaded with a number of musical treats in terms of the set list and of course there are songs that Stratovarius simply cannot remove from their set based on the popularity of the tune we often find that the set does not deviate too much from the audience expectation. During the show we did get a fun bass and guitar solo duet sort of battle and while it was interesting I did feel that it ran a little long. Perhaps Timo K. needed a breather or a Red Bull, but had they shortened this by two or three minutes I think I would have liked it a lot more.

The later start made no sense to me with three bands performing tonight. The show started just after 8:30 and had the local openers on first. They should have started this at 7:30 or 8:00 the latest and not risked playing so close to curfew of the venue. Having seen five band cluster f**ks that end by 11:30pm, it is safe to say that all could have been wrapped up by 11:00 this evening had they begun just a little bit sooner. As you observed the room one could see all the union guys looking at their watches and if you don’t understand what we mean here, just know that playing past a set curfew ends up costing the band a lot of money that comes out of their pocket. The show in and of itself was a great one but the very apparent downside was this choice of venue based on the actual draw and space that the place has to it. The Nokia Theatre holds over 2000 people and tonight the show brought in by my best guess maybe 300-350 Metal heads. Even with the back seating area blocked off by a curtain this looked dismal depending on where you were. Having seen Stratovarius once before at B.B. King Blues Club around the corner and remembering how many folks came in for that particular show made me feel that this gig should have also been set up over there. I know the economic times are tight on everyone and that people are as result making stronger choices but I do not like when the space of the venue works against the band and shines a bright light on just how many people are coming in the door. Despite this I felt that it was a great gig for all involved and I hope that Stratovarius find continued success with their “Polaris” CD.

This was clearly a great month for Metal bands to see in concert, as not only did we have Doro, EdGuy, Motorhead, and Primal Fear steaming through town over the past weeks, but Stryper was coming up next and after them would be All That Remains, Lacuna Coil and Kittie. Whew.

Pagan’s Mind Set List
1. The Conception (Intro)
2. God´s Equation
3. United Alliance
4. Atomic Firelight
5. Hallo Spaceboy
6. Enigmatic Mission
7. Through Osiris´ Eyes
8. Alien Kamikaze

Stratovarius Set List:
1. Destiny
2. Hunting High and Low
3. Speed Of Light
4. The Kiss Of Judas
5. Deep Unknown
6. Million Light Years
7. Legions
8. Winter Skies
9. Phoenix
10. Guitar/Bass Solo
11. Forever Is Today
12. Twilight Symphony
13. Higher We Go
14. Eagleheart
15. Father Time
16. Black Diamond

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