Ayreon is the brainchild of Dutch producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer Arjen Lucassen. The project’s first release was 1995’s ‘The Final Experiment’ and, like most of Ayreon’s output, is a rock opera with multiple guest musicians and vocalists.
Words: Robert Adams
The music covers a myriad of styles, but is predominately prog rock. Given the vast cast of musicians required to produce an Ayreon album, it’s no surprise to find that the first official Ayreon gigs didn’t happen until 2017.
‘The Theater Equation’ was a live album credited to Ayreon and released in 2016 but WASN’T billed as an Ayreon live show – even though it was!
After the success of 2017’s ‘Ayreon Universe – Best Of Ayreon Live’, Lucassen decided to commemorate the 20th anniversary of ‘Into The Electric Castle’ by staging four special shows in Tilburg. The entire album was performed in it’s entirety, along with a few extra tracks from his other projects and a cover of Marillion’s ‘Kayleigh’ sung by Fish.
‘Electric Castle Live And Other Tales’ is a recording of these shows and features narration by none other than Star Trek: Next Generation’s Q, John De Lancie, in full on thespian ham mode – which I say with the utmost respect!
Given the huge cast of vocalists (at least 13) and eight musicians, this has got to be THE best recorded and mixed live album I have ever heard. Everything is crystal clear and no note is lost. Major cap doffing for Arjen Lucassen just for that alone.
Vocalists Anneke Van Giersbergen, Damian Wilson, Edward Reekers, Edwin Balogh, Fish and George Oostenhook reprise their roles from 1998’s studio recording of ‘Into The Electric Castle’ with Lucassen also reprising his role as ‘The Hippie’.
It is by no means a short album – two hours 26 minutes, and the story itself seems a might fanciful and convoluted, but do you know what – it’s FUN!
Every single person on that stage performs at the very top of their game and the results are simply staggering.
Special award for jaw dropping virtuosity goes to Kayak guitarist Marcel Signor who pulls off fluid and blistering lead guitar licks with consummate ease throughout. The DVD of the gig is also wonderful, showing the commitment and joyfulness of everyone involved – crowd included.
Tilburg was taken over by Ayreon fans for those three days (two shows were performed on the third day). Indeed bars were serving a special Ayreon beer and many fans travelled from all over the world to witness these very special gigs.
Thankfully the rest of us unable to be there can get at least a flavour of events from this very special release.
This is prog rock at it’s most bonkers. Is it over the top, musically insane, featuring time changes galore? Of course it is, but it is also WONDERFUL.
Thank you Arjen Lucassen for creating such a magnificent piece of musical theatre and managing to assemble such a strong cast of performers.
The ‘Other Tales’ from the album’s title are as follows – ‘Shores Of India’ originally by The Gentle Storm with Anneke on lead vocals, ‘Ashes’ originally by Ambeon, ‘Out In The Real World’ originally by Stream Of Passion, ‘Songs Of The Ocean’ originally by Star One – all of those original artists were Arjen Lucassen projects.
Plus ‘Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin’ from Lucassen’s solo album ‘Lost In The Real’.
Since Fish was performing at these shows, it would’ve just been plain rude for the assembled band to not perform his best known song from his Marillion days – ‘Kayleigh’.
This is a song that most people are VERY familiar with and this version is sublime. The big man is in fine voice and the female backing singers add extra depth to what is an already fantastic song.
If you even have a passing fancy for prog rock, i would urge you all to give this AMAZING album a listen at the very least.