Dario | Nov 15, 2023 | 0
Ayreon: 01011001 – Live Beneath the Waves. 15-17 September 2023. Tilburg, The Netherlands
During the third week of September, the Dutch city of Tilburg became Ayreon city. It welcomed around 15,000 guests from over 60 countries, all there to enjoy “Ayreon 01011001 Live Beneath the Waves”, and even though the highlight were the shows, the event also included a Camping ground, two “Electric Castle Live and Other Tales” screenings at the local cinema, an Ayreon art auction for a good cause, and some smaller concerts that took place in the Ayreon Pop Up Store and on the campsite.
The Progspace was there! Some of our team members made it to the Ayreon city and experienced the event from the camping grounds to the main events. Here you will find a recount from the different members of our team who witnessed the massive event on different places and days.
Van (The Progspace founder, editor, photographer) – Saturday evening show
After having witnessed all Ayreon shows since “The Theater Equation” (2015), I couldn’t expect less than perfection, as Arjen Lucassen and Lori Linstruth (his wife, manager and all-around head of many things Ayreon) are known to be god and goddess of perfection!. From my personal point of view, I went into the 013 in Tilburg with few expectations, just to roll with the flow, because beside a perfect show, I was not really expecting something new or really surprising, as I thought I had seen all they could do already. Oh well, I was wrong!
But first things first: as a photographer and only 155cm (5,2”) tall, I have to say I missed a lot of what happened on stage while I was in the photo pit. But my thanks to the Ayreon team for making it wider this time, according to safety rules and distances because of the pyrotechnics. But still, as a lot was happening behind the singers posing to our cameras, there was a lot I couldn’t see. After the first 4 songs that we were allowed to shoot up close, began the very difficult job of finding my way with my camera among and around 3500 people filling every corner of the 013 concert hall, including 2 balcony levels! A job not for the faint of heart (or legs!).
Now back to the show: 01011001 (or an easier “Y” in binary code), is one of my favorite Ayreon albums, containing several fan favorite songs and some of the catchiest melodies of the kind that stay in your head as an earworm difficult to defeat… “…the ageee of shaaadoooowwwsss has begun…” alright alright, back to typing.
I was very excited to witness this album live, knowing the level of musicianship delivered by the band is always superb: Ed Warby on drums (Star One, Gorefest, Vuur, etc), Johan Van Stratum on bass (Blind Guardian, Stream Of Passion, Vuur), Marcel Coenen on guitars (Lemur Voice, Sun Caged), Timo Somers as well on guitars (Delain) and the all around incredible Joost van den Broek on synths and show producer (After Forever, Star One, The Gentle Storm). Completing the band, the awesome Jeroen Goossens (Flutes), Ben Mathot (Violin) and Jurriaan Westerveld (Cello).
The backing vocals were in charge of the equally incredible Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion, Dark Horse/White Horse, MaYan), Irene Jansen (Star One) and Jan Willem Ketelaers (Redstacks, Magoria). Without them, there wouldn’t be a show, even though the focus is usually on the main singers stealing the show.
“most of the original cast was there on stage, some had to be replaced for diverse reasons, but even if he was not in the original cast, it is always an immense joy to see Michael Mills (Toehider) on stage alongside one of the most star-studded ensembles Lucassen has amassed live. “
Every Ayreon album shines with the incredible cast of singers Arjen conjures as if using a magic wand. This time was no different; even if most of the original cast was there on stage, some had to be replaced for diverse reasons, but even if he was not in the original cast, it is always an immense joy to see Michael Mills (Toehider) on stage alongside one of the most star-studded ensembles Lucassen has amassed live. They left us all with either tears in our eyes or jaws on the floor: Tom Englund (Evergrey, Redemption, Silent Skies), Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, Simone Simons (Epica), Wudstik, Marjan Welman (Autumn), Liselotte Hegt, Maggy Luyten (The Prize), Phideaux Xavier (albeit on screen only), Damian Wilson (Arena, Threshold, Star One, Headspace, Lalu, etc), Brittney Slayes (Unleash The Archers), John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis) and the master himself, Arjen Lucassen.
Not to fall into too many details, as this time I witnessed only one show, each of the singers were absolutely amazing. Albeit I missed a bit of the theatricals seen on “Into the Electric Castle Live and Other Tales” or “The Theater Equation”. With 26 singers and musicians on stage, coming and going and in some cases just for a few lines of a song, made it a bit difficult to really focus on one voice or the other. But, this precisely might be the reason why we were all left pinned down to the ground with the incredible powerhouse that Brittney Slayes is. What a voice and energy! Everyone was awestruck, clearly including fellow amazing singers. During the previous Ayreon shows the big vocal surprises were John Jaycee Cuijpers and Maggy Luyten, as they were back on stage and I was personally looking forward to the gigantic voice of the small Belgian female singer, but the long-haired Canadian vocalist literally stole every second she appeared on that huge stage!
On the other side of the spectrum, I felt Gildenlöw failed to impress, at times it seemed to me as if he felt out of place, no judgement as I can understand how overwhelming these shows can be for a fan in the crowd, the pressure is way more to a singer on stage. I also felt a bit sad we didn’t get to see Phideaux live on stage but on a screen, as he is a musician I’ve followed for a long time. But it’s understandable, as not only is he a very busy man but the whole travel logistics would have been too much for such a short part in one song. Alas! Someday I’ll see his music played live!
One of the highlights for me, was the ending of the 01011001 album and first part of the show, ‘The Sixth Extinction’ and its last parts with all singers and musicians on stage! Goosebumps galore! Also ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’ with the superb intro from Michael Mills singing live alongside several video versions of himself displayed on the long screens around him was simply stunning!
I must as well highlight the incredible vocal prowess of John Jaycee Cuijpers, several times, leaving the audience astonished. I should have counted the seconds, or minutes? that he held that high note!
The frequent lasers posing as waves, helped to feel as if we were underwater. The cast outfits were simple, mostly all in black and dark shades, until Anneke, with her sweet and bright distinctive voice, appeared golden bright like sunshine beaming on waves crests.
Overall, Mr. L and his team once again organized a fabulous show. Impeccable sound and visuals from start to finish, every cog in the big machinery working perfectly synchronized like clockwork. The stage design was relatively simple, with the screens placed strategically behind a scaffolding with areas where musicians, choir and main singers were placed.
There were 6 pyrotechnic torches aligned at the border of the stage and blowing up from time to time, perfectly timed (and with the utmost care by the pyrotechnics staff!) from the first to the last song! We also had smoke blowing from the center of the scaffolding and dissolving above the audience, and, of course, we had lasers in blue and teal reminiscing waves. Nice effects, simple but very well designed to be enjoyed both above and below these laser waves.
The question remaining in my mind after the show’s ending: is there going to be another super Ayreon show in the future? Everything points that it will happen again. Let’s wait and see what Arjen and Lori are apparently already preparing (hints in their socials). I truly hope they’ll come up with some innovative ideas, because after Ayreon Live Beneath the Waves, I think we’ve seen almost everything that is possible doing for these kinds of shows. But who knows, they always bring a surprise, after all, as Arjen would always say: more is more!
Dario (The Progspace founder and editor) – Sunday matinee Show
As a little preface, I was one of the lucky ones who got to witness Marcela Bovio in an emotional solo performance on Friday noon at the Ayreon campsite. Knowing that she had to go through severe health related problems since the Ayreon Universe shows in 2017, and now seeing her back on stage powerful, yet not afraid of showing vulnerability, became a very special moment to behold and to cherish. Together with her piano sidekick, Erik van Ittersum, she treated a spellbound crowd to one hour of solo songs: Stream of Passion favorites, a very cool version of Muse’s breakthrough hit ‘Muscle Museum’ and the inevitable Ayreon cuts ‘Temple of the Cats’ and ‘Valley of the Queens’. A memorable start to a memorable weekend. Other shows in the camping and the Pop-Up Store included acoustic sets by Damian Wilson also on Friday, Mike Mills on Saturday and Wudstik on Sunday. But on to the main show.
“… all 8 musicians of the ensemble step forward, one by one introduced on the LED screens behind them and at the final beat, they all turn around in a synchronous move, revealing the “01011001” on their backs, one number per musician. What a way to start this show and kickstart 2 ½ hours of goosebumps and serotonin flashes.”
The curtain falls and to the pulsing, bubbling synth intro, all 8 musicians of the ensemble step forward, one by one introduced on the LED screens behind them and at the final beat, they all turn around in a synchronous move, revealing the “01011001” on their backs, one number per musician. What a way to start this show and kickstart 2 ½ hours of goosebumps and serotonin flashes. At the “Ayreon Universe” shows (six years ago), these introductions were on the huge LED screen in the back when a singer or musician was the main focus on stage. This was kind of missed this time, but given the amount of singers and how fast they were coming and going, the changing screens might have disrupted the flow of the show. At the “Beneath The Waves” shows, the background videos were displayed on 5 very tall and vertically placed screens distributed along the stage, creating cool visual effects for each of the songs being played.
My personal highlights (apart from the impeccable musicianship, crystal clear sound and awesome visuals) included, but were not limited to: The sense of camaraderie between the whole cast – even managing to lure in a kind of distant Daniel Gildenlöw by Sunday midday.
Realizing that Mike Mills is actually wearing a t-shirt with the face of Steve Lee (†) to honor his late vocalist colleague. And then continuing to really make him proud by absolutely nailing his almost impossible parts.
Maggy Luyten pulling off Jorn Lande’s “I’m losing the reason to live, the essence of life” part in ‘Liquid Eternity’ like it’s nothing, making it her very own song twice over. Brittney Slayes not wanting to leave the stage anytime Maggy took over from her to belt out a powerful ‘Ride the Comet’ chorus. A random Jonas Renkse appearing every now and then to slow things down and take us into dreamspace (or rather Dreamtime?).
Damian Wilson surprising everyone by going into the higher octave at the end of ‘Comatose’ after already holding that last note for a long time. Tom Englund’s “Would you prefer the pain and suffering we had…” and “I see mainly reptiles” lines in ‘Liquid Eternity’ and ‘The Fifth Extinction’ respectively. Joost van den Broek’s absolutely gorgeous synth sounds, down to the smoothest Tomas Bodin solo in ‘Waking Dreams’. And sending shivers down our spines with that perfect signature Star One lead sound at the beginning of ‘Fate of Man’.
The Bob Catley/Steve Lee battle in ‘Unnatural Selection’ turning into a Mike Mills/Damian Wilson battle like it was always meant to be. Wudstik and Marjan Welman managing to absolutely shine even though having only one song to make an impression – and they did!: “The meaning of life is to give life meaning!” And, of course, the huge final: ‘The Sixth Extinction’ with another massive a-cappella goosebumps part for the ages! – “Make us whole, migrator soul, Follow you home, complete the circle!”
Andrei (The Progspace reviewer) – Sunday matinee Show
4 years ago, I got to see the “Ayreon Into The Electric Castle” live show and it’s a day I will never forget. In my entire life going to concerts, I’ve probably never seen a more surprising, complete, professional and well-executed live production than an Ayreon show. But what about the 01011001 live shows? Do these match the expectations set by the predecessor? The albums are both legendary in the world of prog rock, and while my personal favorite is “Into The Electric Castle”, there are no grounds to decide which one is “better”. And it’s probably the same for the live productions.
Despite the theatrical nature and visual spectacle of an Ayreon live show, what always strikes me first is the sound quality. I’ve seen 2 shows in one day without using ear plugs and I left without a buzz in my ears. The volume was at the perfect level to bring a massive amount of power to the sound without going too loud. All instruments punch through as clearly as they would on a studio recording, with no flaw, no mismatch in textures or volume balancing and no effect overdone. Everything is sublime and each musician shines in full splendor. And if that may seem surprising for a regular band, this performance included nearly 30 musicians!
“The theatrical presence and outfits of all musicians on stage made quite the spectacle as well. The sci-fi underwater aesthetic was incredibly well nailed with the metal walls on both sides of the stage and the multiple levels on the stage. The projections on the screen created an amazing immersive visual experience that kept the story flowing as one from beginning to end.”
And that brings me to the performance itself. The album was performed flawlessly in its entirety. The band did a phenomenal job both replicating and enhancing the experience I knew from the album. Live, all the songs sounded just as iconic and familiar, but a lot more powerful and epic. Certain sound effects being changed here and there also made it sound renewed in certain ways. And a few additions to the songs (breakdown at the end of ‘Beneath The Waves’, guitar solo duel in ‘Ride The Comet’) made for some very well received surprises!
The vocal performances were also extraordinary. The highlights must have been Anneke van Giersbergen’s parts, Michael Mills’ incredible versatility, Maggy Luyten’s power and charisma, and Brittney Slayes effortlessly slaying (pun intended) all the parts that on the album belonged to Floor Jansen!
The theatrical presence and outfits of all musicians on stage made quite the spectacle as well. The sci-fi underwater aesthetic was incredibly well nailed with the metal walls on both sides of the stage and the multiple levels on the stage. The projections on the screen created an amazing immersive visual experience that kept the story flowing as one from beginning to end.
I must credit the master himself, Arjen Lucassen, for his 2 vocal performances in ‘Connect the Dots’ and ‘The Truth is in Here’, with the second also putting forth a very entertaining, slightly comedic theatrical play! There are endless moments I could spotlight, but I’ll stop here.
The additional songs, after the album was done, were a great surprise as well. Giving Simone Simons a chance to shine in ‘This Human Equation’ after her very short appearance during the album was awesome, as well as giving the spotlight to Brittney Slayes for a Star One song, to display once again what a mad powerhouse of a singer she is.
But topping everything up with ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’, an undeniable epic fan favorite that also links to the story of the “01011001” album, was truly the ideal way to end.
I actually also have a few minor details to complain about. Some of the choices of who should sing what parts didn’t make sense to me, like Damian Wilson getting a lot of the low vocal parts (Comatose) when his voice seems more fitted for the high parts. And most annoyingly, as one fan cleverly pointed out, there was a Stegosaurus in The Fifth Extinction animations which is inaccurate with our planet’s history. When the meteor that killed the dinosaurs fell, Stegosaurus were already extinct… Disclaimer: this is a joke.
When putting it all together, Ayreon’s latest set of live shows met all expectations and gave one of the most beloved albums in Arjen’s career the live presentation that it deserves! I can only congratulate the entire crew that worked on this extraordinary production and I’m already looking forward to seeing what album the next show will bring to the stage!
Arjen Lucassen and his team never fail to impress. Everyone who has witnessed at least one Ayreon show, always leaves the venue with a big smile on their faces, many with tears of happiness in their eyes. To produce this effect in about 15000 fans is nothing short of remarkable. Every aspect of the production of these shows takes years of preparation and the effort it takes resulted in a series of flawless shows with perfect sound, visuals, stage and pyrotechnics matching the music and the story, while the outstanding musicianship elevated the superb vocal performances. An experience that will linger in the memory of each one of us who were submerged in the magic of Ayreon: 01011001 – Live Beneath the Waves shows.