Arjen Anthony Lucassen is without any doubt the most accomplished (heavy) prog artist of the Netherlands. With his rock operas he made himself a name throughout the world and he’s got fans all around the globe. After the success of Ayreon Universe he had a slip of the tongue when he promised producer, keyboard wizard and composer Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) to ‘do it again sometime’. Well, that opportunity came, perhaps sooner than Arjen expected, when record label Mascot shared their plan with Arjen to rerelease Into The Electric Castle on vinyl. Arjen immediately came up with the idea to do something extra for the fans, he didn’t like the idea of ‘just putting the original album again’. Digging out his tapes from the attic he started to digitalize all of them. Subsequently, he started remastering all original recordings and the rest is history. We all know about the rereleases on both vinyl, CD and CD box set. One thing led to another and pretty early on the plan was conceived to put together a live show. Deliberately not as huge, perhaps even a little bit over the top, as Ayreon Universe but more intimate, faithful to all original recordings and using all original artworks by Jef Bertels. Arjen worked on the music and started to contact as much singers and instrumentalists as he could who performed on the original album Into The Electric Castle and Joost van den Broek began to put together a formidable live band and started working on arrangements, stage set and so on. Marketing people got involved and when the first two shows that were scheduled early on sold out within the hour, more shows were added and the plan was conceived to turn Tilburg into ‘Ayreon City’ the weekend of 13-15 September.
The ‘Dress Rehearsal’, Thursday September 12.
As for the so called ‘dress rehearsal’ itself: what a brilliant and unique event! Can you name me one artist who invites a selection of journalists, friends and big fans of for a special try out? Which renowned artist allows photographers to photograph the whole show? The answer is: not any artist to my knowledge. Arjen obviously values his relations and loyal friends and this was the ultimate way to show his appreciation for all the people who supported him through the years, many of them from the very start of his career. Before this ‘dress rehearsal’ Arjen Lucassen was invited to the stage and was awarded with a special achievement award from the Tilburg community, because the shows would draw 12.000 people to Tilburg in one weekend.
So what just a few hundred guests saw was breathtaking: the whole show by the complete cast in a sort of private setting. Fabulous sound, impressive screens with moving images from Bertels and a stage set as one can only be seen with great acts like the compatriots of Within Temptation! Lucassen managed to get Star Trek icon John de Lancie, who played Q in Star Trek, to come over to the Netherlands to play the role of Forever. De Lancie proved to be an absolute asset to the show. With his clear voice and excellent pronunciation, one could understand every word he spoke and not only did he do a fantastic job, his way of storytelling and all his extended lyrical contributions made the story really come to life.
Obviously not every artist that participated over twenty years ago was available for these shows, but their replacements were all extremely competent. Simone Simons (Epica) took over teh role of Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) as the Indian and John JayCee Cuijpers sang the role of Jay van Feggelen as the Barbarian. All other original vocalists from some twenty years ago were on stage: Fish as the Highlander, Anneke van Giersbergen as the Egyptian, Edwin Balogh as the Roman, Damian Wilson as the Knight, Edwin Reekers as the Futureman and of course Arjen himself as the Hippie. From the original instrumentalists Focus icon Sir Thijs van Leer was on stage as well as drummer Ed Warby and pianist Robby Valentine.
Many thanks for Arjen and crew to ‘have us’ on this special evening. Unforgettable!
The cast of 2019:
Fish (ex-Marillion), Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR), Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold, ex-Headspace, ex-Landmarq), Thijs van Leer (Focus), Ed Warby (Ayreon), Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak), Edwin Balogh (ex-Omega), George Oosthoek (ex-Orphanage).
Simone Simons (Epica), Mark Jansen (Epica, Mayan), John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis), Marcela Bovio (Mayan, ex-Stream Of Passion), Dianne van Giersbergen (Ex Libris), Jan Willem Ketelaars (Knight Area), John de Lancie (Star Trek).
Johan van Stratum (VUUR, ex-Stream Of Passion): bass, Joost van den Broek: keyboards, Marcel Singor (Kayak): lead guitar, Ferry Duijsens (VUUR): guitar, Bob Wijtsma (Ex Libris, ex-Xystus): guitar, Ben Mathot: violin, Jurriaan Westerveld: cello.
The performance on Saturday, September 14:
A sold-out venue as were all shows and people from 64 countries! The fans from all over the world got what they deserved: a spectacular rock-event with at the end only one questions remaining: can it get any better than this? The towers on stage, background vocalists on a bridge, spectacular light show, brilliant graphics by (as I recall correctly) a Chilean artist who uses a technique to make static images come to life, a ‘gate’ allowing artists to enter the stage, attention for every detail. The musicians dressed in black, the vocalists in costumes matching their respective roles. Great performances by both instrumentalists as all vocalists. Of course Fish has got a different voice compared to twenty years ago, so in his case there had to be some adjustments made. Balogh, Reekers, Wilson, Oosthoek and Arjen himself delivered great renditions of all songs. The show was stolen by Anneke van Giersbergen and Damian Wilson, obviously favourites of the audience. JayCee Cuijpers seemed to be a little less known by the many but nonetheless he did extraordinary well. Nice flute playing by Focus legend Thijs van Leer and a stunning solo by Robby Valentine on his grand piano were just a few of the many cherries on the delicious pie. Marcel Singor also proved to be a great choice, his lead guitar solos were really awesome. A huge compliment for Joost van den Broek who not only proved to be a great arranger, organizer and stage-director but an extraordinary keyboardist as well. This multi-tasking gentleman has got an awful lot of talent!
After the songs from the album Into The Electric Castle there was a special announcement from TH-1 (Michael Mills from Toehider) through the big screen: “Stay tuned, there are some other tales to tell.” The Gentle Storm was highlighted by Anneke van Giersbergen with the track Shores Of India, Ambeon by the track Ashes sung by Simone Simons, Out In The Real World from Stream Of Passion by Marcela Bovio and Twisted Coil from The Guilt Machine sung by Damian Wilson who rendered an amazingly good performance. One could contemplate why ‘next door neighbour’ Jasper Steverlinck wasn’t performing this song.