So, a comparatively mild February evening brings my first visit of the year to this KK’s Steel Mill, an increasingly utilised West Midlands venue that is continuing to gain popularity among artists and fans alike. I will briefly skip ahead to confirm that tonight’s mouth-watering triple bill, featuring Tarja Turunen, Temperance and Beneath The Embers, was one of those evenings where every note, from the first to the very last, is absorbed within your heart and soul, never wanting it to end.
Tarja – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 2 February 2023
Photograph: John Inglis
Words: Sophie James
I have to admit, I haven’t tracked Tarja’s career as much as that of her former band, so this was a wonderful opportunity to come up to date and appreciate one of the best soprano voices out there.
For this much-awaited tour, she has assembled an outstanding set of musicians which includes Living Colour legend Doug Wimbish on Bass, long-time collaborator Alex Scholpp on Guitar, Christian Kretschmar on Keys, Max Lilja on Cello and Alex Holzwarth on Drums.
They opened with the appropriate titled Serene, which was one of those numbers that allow the sound crew to tweak things before the show really ramps up. So it proved, following the funky intro, the crunching riffs and pummelling bass of Demons In You kicked in. Now those Siren-like tones were fully unleashed, bewitching any souls within earshot.
The older My Little Phoenix reminded me somewhat of Kate Bush. During this number, there was a striking visual whereby Cellist Max was perfectly silhouetted against the rear projection. The pace never slackened with the dual salvo of Anteroom Of Death and Diva, the latter of which was one of the absolute high points of the evening.
Identifying herself as a ‘dreamer’ was Tarja’s way of introducing Goodbye Stranger. What an immense mid-section this had, with Doug leading a thunderous groove. At any other gig, this may well have descended into a Circle Pit – I choose that word as ‘Mosh’ may be too strong a term.
Surprisingly, Silent Masquerade saw the evening’s sole costume change, and this was immediately followed by her only tip of the hat to her previous musical life with a frenetic romp through Wishmaster.
It was now time to take things down a bit. A two-song solo spot saw her front and centre with a keyboard. If anybody needed proof of the purity and clarity of Tarja’s voice, then this was it.
“Do you still want to rock?’ she enquired. “Let’s go guys,” as the band returned and launched into Undertaker. Exuberant despite its title, with the lady herself gyrating manically across the stage as the song careered towards its crescendo. On this number, too, there was another wonderful vision of Cellist Max almost blending into a dark forest back projection. Located in the traditional drummer position, it was impossible to miss these fleeting visualisations
Tears In The Rain (not to be confused with the Robin Beck Classic) was followed by the main set closer, Victim Of Ritual. Its slow Military Marching beat/Ravel’s Bolero beat built into a sonic tsunami until the band exited stage left. Ever wondered what a semi-operatic call and response sounded like? We were left in no doubt after witnessing or even participating in just that activity.
Returning to the stage for a ‘curfew’ busting four-song encore commencing with Innocence and its mass Catleyesque arm-waving, it struck me again just how pitch-perfect Tarja was. While introducing the next song, she reminded us that it has been 16 years since she commenced her solo journey and thanked everyone so much for being there. One could completely understand her thoughts and feelings at the time when she recorded I Walk Alone. Dead Promises then preceded the show closer, Until My Last Breath.
Having finally cast the shackles of her previous life, it was clearly evident just how much she was revelling in her role as The Mistress Of Ceremonies, grinning with genuine contentment throughout. The contrast between this evening and my previous sighting was like chalk and cheese.
And as for that voice, I don’t think I have ever heard another vocalist sing with such perfect pitch and clarity throughout a set. I appreciate that this is only the second date of the tour, and we were blessed with the timing of this show, but with someone as trained, talented and professional as this, I do not expect the standard to waiver as the schedule progresses.
After the final bows, Tarja was reluctant to leave the stage, soaking up the atmosphere of an appreciative audience that had been blown away by what they had witnessed. As we look forward to many more tours throughout the year, the bar has been well and truly set.
Tarja – Setlist
Demons in You
My Little Phoenix
Anteroom of Death
Wishmaster (Nightwish cover)
The Golden Chamber (Loputon Yö) / You and I
Tears in Rain
Victim of Ritual
I Walk Alone
Until My Last Breath