When Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen first held a weekend of Ayreon shows in his local venue, the 013 in Tilburg, a local journalist commented afterwards that people from all over the world had come to their city to see someone they had never heard of.
Ayreon: Live Beneath The Waves
013 Tilburg, Netherlands – 15 September 2023
Words: Ian Sutherland
Photography: Eddy Jolen
Six years on, and that has changed, despite Lucassen still not exactly being a household name in his home country. Everyone loves a tourist with cash to spend, so visitors from more than sixty countries are welcomed to Tilburg with Ayreon flags at the train station, a booklet with Ayreon discounts for local attractions and even some specially brewed Ayreon beers.
This time, there are five shows over three days due to the phenomenal demand, and there’s a huge air of expectation around this first performance (excluding the dress rehearsal with limited public access) of the 2007 album 01011001.
Titled Live Beneath The Waves as a nod to the aquatic beings in the epic science fiction story that’s told through the songs, could he match or top his Ayreon Universe and Electric Castle And Other Tales shows?
When the curtain drops, it’s a more industrial-looking stage set than the epic Electric Castle from 2019. Scaffolding and strategically placed video screens give off an industrial vibe.
Opener Age Of Shadows has a chugging menace that matches that feel, and the band is already superbly tight. Then come the singers!
Singers is what Ayreon is about more than anything. Lucassen loves to have different singers bringing unique flavours to his songs, and tonight’s performance has no less than nineteen voices involved.
In the maestro’s speech later, he will admit that he never thought 01011001 would be performed live, so he didn’t worry about how complex it got. That complexity meant that vocalists were constantly coming on and off the stage, keeping the backstage staff busy.
That was handled beautifully, though and a rapturous audience was left trying to take in a smorgasbord of delights. Hearing Damian Wilson and a sparkly Anneke Van Giersbergen together on Comatose, Maggy Luyton’s raw power leading a roaring ensemble in the uplifting Ride The Comet, Lucassen himself leading from the front in The Truth Is In Here, too many moments to really take in at once!
I especially enjoyed Marjan Welman’s beautifully evocative tones on E=MC2, helping the song to flow like liquid, emotional gold, and the sea shanty singalong of River Of Time, which allowed the flute, violin and cello ensemble to party with the rest.
Backing it all up were Marcela Bovio, Irene Jansen and Jan Willem Ketelaers, showing how important backing vocals are in adding epic to the Ayreon Universe.
By the album closer, The Sixth Extinction, with a stage packed with so much talent, the singers all taking a lead line to impress and the pyrotechnics to match it, everyone in the hall knew Arjen had done it again, another triumph for the faithful.
They weren’t finished yet, though. Epica’s Simone Simons couldn’t be left with only one lead vocal in the evening, so the encore portion started with the delightfully cheeky groove of This Human Equation.
Unleash The Archer’s Brittney Slayes took her moment in a crunching Metal spotlight in a rampaging Fate Of Man.
Finally, Ayreon out epic themselves, closing with a glorious rendition of the thirteen-minute plus The Day That The World Breaks Down, a song which no one ever thought they would get to see performed live.
The rapturous applause of the crowd for the magnificent ensemble of talent on stage at the end was as heartfelt as it was inevitable.
For some of the far-travelled here, it’s been as much a dreamed-of religious experience as a concert, but Lucassen and his team have managed to rise to the occasion again and provide an epic experience which also somehow warms the soul.
He may not want to come to you, but meeting him at his place is worth the trip. Look out for the next time. The inevitable Blu-Ray will be a cracker, too.