Live review – Tarja (Finland) @ Academy 2 Manchester, 4th February
It’s difficult to write any evaluation of a performance by Tarja (Turunen) without some reference or other to Nightwish, even though it is 18 years since they dramatically parted company and 16 since she released her own, tentative first single (which she performed tonight).
So I’ll start off by bestowing kudos on the flying Finn by way of thanking her for coming to Manchester, on her ‘In the Raw’ tour, which regrettably her old band didn’t manage to do on their own recent circuit.
Both UK/Ireland tours were heavily impacted by the pandemic of course, each twice being postponed and while she probably says it at every venue Tarja’s “it’s so good to be back here at last”, which generates a great deal of love from the crowd and not for the last time on the evening, is genuinely from the heart.
She has a relationship with her fans that many other artists can only aspire to. The ubiquitous “we love you’s” were in full flow, and fully reciprocated. Whether they’re coming from 80,000 at Wacken or 800 in an English city, they all count.
She’s here, in a fetching black leather outfit, with a full and highly competent band consisting of guitar, bass, keyboards (a couple of Nords I think from my position at the back), a drummer who’s so low down in the bottom right hand corner you can hardly see him, and a dynamic electric cello player who’s a cross between Erik ten Hag and serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, the ‘Tooth Fairy’ from the film ‘Manhunter.’ When he indicates you should clap, you clap.
I guess they’ve brought their own lighting as well because the moody illumination, with a predominance of blue, is just so.
And with an almost sold out venue which is very much up for it Tarja was quickly wowing the assembled masses with ‘Serene’ from the ‘In the Raw’ album; in which the sheer power of her operatic soprano voice almost drowned out the instruments.
Tarja’s in her 40s now, she had a health scare with a stroke a few years and you might expect her to be slowing down somewhat these days. Forget it. Find an old video of a Nightwish performance from, say 20 years ago, and marvel at the dynamism on show. Now extricate Tarja from it and place her on the stage tonight and try to spot the difference. You’ll be hard pressed.
From start to finish she’s the same highly mobile diva she’s ever been, fit as a fiddle and prancing around the stage like a 15-year old in front of Simon Cowell, consistently urging the audience on with arm movements that could be swimming strokes or boxing punches. And there’s always a smile on her face.
Speaking of divas, one of my personal highlights of the night was, indeed, ‘Diva’, from ‘The Shadow Self’ album. It was simply magnificent. They should give it a showcase of its own in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I can’t offer you a video from this performance but here’s one from Kyiv, where she frequently performs (more about Ukraine later).
In contrast I was a tad disappointed by the performance of ‘The Golden Chamber/ Loputon yö’ mainly because some of the full seven-minute song was cut; the initial ‘Awaken’ which was reduced to the opening bars and a bit more and the finale ‘Alchemy’ and then it was mixed with ‘You and I’, also from ‘In the Raw’ into one five and a half-minute song.
Tarja opted to perform them solo, sat at a piano. It was lovely, but the volume was too low.
I can’t understand why she did that. I certainly don’t believe it’s because she doesn’t believe she can get the high notes in ‘The Golden Chamber’ any longer; the rest of the show proved she can still reproduce them easily.
And ‘The Golden Chamber’, a masterful piece,would require orchestration to reproduce it.
But I hope a way can found to showcase it at future performances.
(The Golden Chamber – all of it)
The band got its chance to shine without Tarja from time to time, which is always a nice touch from an artist. This notably happened during ‘Goodbye Stranger’ which featured a fairly formulaic guitar solo, then a session on the drums which was distinctly John Bonham-ish. Then I thought there was another guitar solo until I realised it emanated from the cello. I’ve never heard anything quite like that before.
The one Nightwish ‘cover’ (is it really a cover if she sang on it in the first place?) was ‘Wishmaster’, which brought down the house as you might expect. You know, the perfect dream for me would be Marko Hietala suddenly appearing on stage and he and Tarja performing ‘The Phantom’ but realistically those days are gone. The King is Dead. Long live The Queen.
Skipping quickly to the ‘encore’ (there was a few seconds break before they resumed the 16-song set) the highlight for me had to be ‘I walk alone’, which as she said, was the first “baby steps” in her fledgling career (having found herself redundant) and a song that has as much, poignancy, significance and clout as Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’. A powerful statement of intent without vindictiveness.
Walking back to the car I mulled over why this show was so special. Apart from the fact that it took so long to get here.
Tarja’s band plays a huge part of course; she chose its members wisely.
But at the end of the day it’s her untrammeled stage presence and that fantastic voice that really count. I’ve ‘heard’ Tarja Turunen many times but you haven’t really heard her until it’s ‘in the raw’, up there on a stage. During this show she dropped notes, mainly lower, chest-generated ones, that I’d never previously encountered.
And then, during ‘Victim of Ritual’, she threw in, from out of left field, the most amazing operatic trill I’ve ever heard in rock music (in fact you don’t hear them, period); one that Joan Sutherland would have been proud of. It was a blink and you’ll miss it moment. I’m trilled that I didn’t blink.
I said earlier I’d return to Ukraine. This lady has shows booked there in April. In the fricking war zone, in towns that you see every day on the news, being bombed.
Not only does she have one of the finest voices in contemporary music. She’s a legend.
Full set list: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/tarja/2023/manchester-academy-2-manchester-england-2bbd0c8a.html
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