Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Sean Larkin
This gig was originally scheduled for January, but was put back due to delays in the recording of the Hydra album and to give the band chance to rehearse properly for what will be a lengthy world tour.
The addition of Delain to the bill made this show something of a must, and it was good to see the Academy had nearly filled up prior to the band coming on and opening their set with ‘Go Away’ from their new album The Human Contradiction. They then proceeded to deliver a set as good as anything I’ve seen this year. Strangely they played more songs from the previous album, ‘We Are The Others’ than from the new one, but I really don’t think anyone was complaining. The band played superbly, with an obvious pleasure in being on stage and in front of such a responsive crowd, and in Charlotte Wessels they have a singer as good as anyone in the genre today and who was top form at the Academy. Highlights in the set were ‘Get The Devil Out Of Me’, ‘Army Of Dolls’ from the new album, and a wonderful performance of the anthemic ‘We Are The Others’ to close the set.
The best way of summing up is to say that I’m sure anyone walking in midway through and taking in the confident and assured band performance, not to mention the audience’s reaction, could easily have assumed that Delain were the headliners. This is a band not only ready to move up into a much bigger league, but banging on the door and demanding admittance. It won’t be long before they’re headlining venues this size in their own right.
The last time Within Temptation toured the UK, was on the back of the excellent Unforgiving album, and their stage show then was a brilliantly conceived, superbly presented spectacle, and something that struck me about this new show was how much it resembled the previous one. The stage layout was very similar, with the drums and keyboards on risers, with a platform behind running across the width of the stage and a staircase in the middle, along with a well-designed light show and a high definition video screen across the back wall, although I understand this was a much reduced version of the set-up they’d had at Wembley Arena a few nights previously.
Obviously this show was built around the Hydra album, and after a short intro film, it was two Hydra songs that opened the show, firstly ‘Let Us Burn’, then ‘Paradise (What About Us)’. On the album, the latter song is a duet with Tarja Turenen, one of a number of guest vocalists, and I’d been curious to see how the band would work this into the live show. It transpired that singer Sharon den Adel would be dueting with pre-recorded backing tracks and film of the other singer, but almost as soon as ‘Paradise’ started, the screen appeared to break down, and we were left with the sight of Sharon hanging on to the mic stand and swaying in time to the disembodied voice coming from the speakers, which felt a little awkward, but fortunately the problem was rectified after a couple more songs.
The screen was important as the band included more of the duets on the new album, including ‘And We Run’ featuring Xzibit, and in each case the guest singer was featured on the screen with a backing track, and in addition, in the encores, we also had ‘What Have You Done’, featuring Keith Caputo, in the same way. It’s understandable why the band choose to do this and in this form, but for some it does detract from the live element of the show. However, when the band reverted to playing, rather than accompanying the screen, they were spot on, with Sharon in particular in great form. ‘Faster’ has become a Within Temptation classic, along with the likes of ‘Stand My Ground’ and ‘The Cross’. There’s also a very nice cover of Lana del Rey’s ‘Summertime Sadness’ in the encore, a song that fitted into the band’s set really well.
There’s no denying that this is a brilliantly presented show, and for the most part, the band got the set list bang on, with a healthy mix of old and new. But as much as I enjoyed it, I did leave the Academy with reservations. For all the spectacle, it often felt a little too slick and clinical. Some of the best shows I see have a very clear and tangible human element, but for too much of this show, this was missing. For example, there was almost no communication with the crowd, not even a ‘Hello, Birmingham!’ or even a ‘this is a song from our new album’ until well over an hour into a 90 minute main set. Although Sharon did loosen up enough to engage with the crowd in the latter part of the show and in the encores. I appreciate that a show like this has to be carefully timed and orchestrated, but it can create a distance between band and audience, and breaking down that wall can make all the difference between a good show and a great one. Their previous show at The Academy, on the ‘Unforgiving’ tour in 2011, was an easy choice as one of my gigs of the year, yet this never quite reached those heights.
1. Let Us Burn
2. Paradise (What About Us)
5. Edge Of The World
6. In The Middle Of The Night
10. And We Run
11. See Who I Am
12. Stand My Ground
13. The Cross
14. Covered By Roses
15. Mother Earth
16. What Have You Done
17. Whole World Is Watching
18. Summertime Sadness
19. Ice Queen