Nightwish/The PlayStation Theater/March 14, 2018
Based in Kitee, Finland, Tuomas Holopainen in the 1990s had played keyboards in several heavy metal bands, including Nattvindens Gråt, Perkele Börk and Darkwoods My Betrothed. In 1996, sitting with friends around a campfire, he felt roused to form a new band that would play the experimental acoustic music he wrote while in the Finnish Army — similar to the music usually played around campfires, but with keyboards. He invited friend and schoolmate Erno “Emppu” Vuorinen to play acoustic guitars, and classical vocalist Tarja Turunen. The name Nightwish was derived from their first song together. Nightwish is the third best-selling band and musical entity in Finland with sales of nearly 900,000 units. The group is also the most successful Finnish band worldwide, selling more than 9 million records. Nightwish presently consists of Holopainen, Vuorinen, vocalist Floor Jansen, bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala, multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley and drummer Jukka Nevalainen. After eight studio albums, Nightwish’s compilation album, Decades, was released on March 9, 2018.
Headlining at the PlayStation Theater, Nightwish combined elements of symphonic metal, progressive metal, power metal and even ambient and European folk music into a bombastic yet melodic explosion. The two-hour performance included many of the band’s best-known songs, but also included many songs that were rarely performed live in the past. Although scenarios and movement were projected onto the wide screen behind the band, the statuesque leather-clad Floor Jansen commanded constant attention as she sang delicately to rocking music. Hietala, with his husky voice, countered Jansen’s skyward-soaring. Holopainen often provided an ambient or cinematic interlude on keyboards and synthesizers. Donockley inserted a folksy with a variety of traditional woodwind and stringed instruments. Kai Hahto of Wintersun, who substituted on drums for an ailing Nevalainen on this tour, propelled the drive on the uptempo songs. Concluding the concert, Jansen dedicated “The Greatest Show on Earth” to Professor Stephen Hawking, who died earlier that morning, and then ended with another epic-sounding song, “Ghost Love Score.” In concert, Nightwish was an inventive band, with a catalogue that was both visionary and mesmerizing.
Judas Priest/Prudential Center, Newark/March 20, 2018
Judas Priest initially formed in 1969 in West Bromwich, England, taking its name from Bob Dylan‘s song, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” but the original band split in 1970. In 1971, Judas Priest’s original vocalist, Al Atkins, teamed with Freight, a heavy rock band with guitarist K. K. Downing and bassist Ian “Skull” Hill, adopting the name of Atkins’ former band. Atkins left in 1973, and the remaining musicians enlisted vocalist Rob Halford of the band Hiroshima and second lead guitarist Glenn Tipton from the Flying Hat Band. Although none were members of the original band, Halford, Downing, Tipton and Hill, along with a series of drummers, became the core of the classic Judas Priest line-up. The current line-up consists of Halford, Hill, Tipton, guitarist Richie Faulkner, and drummer Scott Travis. Judas Priest has sold over 50 million albums. The band’s 18th studio album, Firepower, was released on March 9, 2018.
Prior to the start of the Firepower tour, Judas Priest announced that Tipton was retiring from live performances due to his battle with Parkinson’s disease; Andy Sneap would replace Tipton on the road. At Prudential Center, Halford sang up a storm, ranging from throaty growls to ear-piercing screeches, while guitarists Faulkner and Sneap provided the bolts of lightning, and the rhythm section of Hill and Travis supplied the booming thunder. Apart from three songs from the new album and one song from 1990, the rest of the set was from the band’s golden decade, 1976 to 1986. Indeed, the band’s peak was some 35 years ago, and for 100 minutes the band relived the glory days, even with Halford huffing for breath between songs. Once known for its S&M-styled wardrobe, the musicians dressed in more casual rocker wardrobe, while Halford frequently stepped off stage between songs to change jackets or vests, and yes, at one point reentered the stage on a motorcycle. Judas Priest is no longer breaking new ground, but the band’s performance was a finely-polished exhibit of classic heavy metal excellence. To end the night with a blast, Tipton rejoined his band for the first time to perform a three-song encore. With exciting concerts like this, Judas Priest will continue to be ranked as one of the greatest metal bands of all time.
Iced Earth/The Gramercy Theater/March 22, 2018
Based out of Tampa, Fla., guitarist Jon Schaffer formed his vision of a thrash metal/power metal band in 1984 with a short-lived band called the Rose and then in 1985 with Purgatory, which in 1988 changed its name to Iced Earth. The band has changed personnel over 20 times, with the present lineup consisting of Schaffer, vocalist Stu Block, lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, bassist Luke Appleton, and drummer Brent Smedley. Iced Earth’s 12th and most recent studio album, Incorruptible, was released on June 16, 2017.
Celebrating 30 years as Iced Earth, Schaffer and his current bandmates headlined at the Gramercy Theatre with a solid set of headbangers. The set included six songs from the band’s most recent album, but the majority of the music came from the band’s 1990s albums. Amid brain-crushing riffs and avalanche-styled rhythms, Block’s vocal range was impressive, from screeching high notes to singing deep from the gut. Several times Block risked climbing on top of Smedley’s drum cage and sang from high above. After nearly two hours of riveting, rocking heavy metal, the concert wrapped with a more somber closure, as Block dedicated “Watching Over Me” to “anyone in your life who has passed” but also “for life,” and invited youth from the audience to join the band onstage.
Jack White/Warsaw, Brooklyn/March 23, 2018
Born in Detroit, Mich., John Gillis learned to play the instruments that his older brothers had abandoned; he began playing the drums in the first grade after finding a kit in the attic, and later learned to play guitar. In high school he played the drums and trombone in the school band, and met his future bride and drummer, Meg White. In a reversal of tradition, Gillis took her last name and became Jack White. Jack played drums in local bands including Goober & the Peas, but switched to guitar when Meg started playing drums; the two Whites then formed a duo called the White Stripes in 1997. Before the White Stripes officially disbanded in 2011, Jack had moved in 2005 to Nashville, Tennessee, and had founded, recorded and toured with the Raconteurs (2006-2011) and the Dead Weather (2009-present). He launched a solo career in 2012, and his third solo album, Boarding House Reach, was released on March 23, 2018.
Prior to a summer tour that includes headlining Governors Ball in June, Jack White assembled a band and performed three small venues, including the 1000-capacity Warsaw in Brooklyn. It was a “no cell phone” event, requesting that patrons lock their phones into little green pouches. The two-hour set introduced songs from the new album as well as re-imagined songs from his catalog. Led by White on vocals and guitar, White’s band consisted of keyboardists Quincy McCrary and Neal Evans, bassist Dominic Davis, and drummer Carla Azar. White seemed very much into the band experience, directing spontaneously what might have been under-rehearsed arrangements as he used rolling hand motions to instruct the musicians to stretch out solos and waving to them to end a song. The set started with the fuzz-riff-loaded “Over and Over and Over,” which seemed to be a lively addition to the trajectory one would have expected from White. With two large trays of pedals by his feet, White distorted his guitar sounds increasingly as the sonic assault progressed. Frequently inviting improvisation, much of the set was as raw and loose as a jazz concert, with White perhaps freer than he has ever been on stage. White sang, rapped, funked and rocked rather noisily and explosively. Many moments were more accessible than others, but the wild unevenness of the performance made it more interesting than if it had been a polished package comprised of all strengths. The experimental nature of the 26-song set was enthralling.