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Tuesday 19 January 2021

A View From The Screen: Avatar - Ages - An Impossible Concert Experience (Live Stream Review By Simon Black)

Avatar: Ages - An Impossible Concert Experience, Age Of Illusions, January 16 2021

Avatar have had a very successful decade. It doesn’t seem like any time at all has passed since I first came across them in 2014 when last minute travel problems for Graveyard meant that Avatar had the chance to grab a last minute upgraded slot on the Bloodstock main stage. They took that opportunity with both hands and, despite playing to a rain-weary and bleary-eyed crowd who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Somme in 1916, took their creepy version of Melo-Deth influenced Shock Rock to an unsuspecting crowd, stole the day and won a whole new audience.

Cut to January 2021 and Avatar are having a busy month. For four consecutive Saturdays (and at a very reasonable £15 a show), the band have been putting out streamed performances which between them cover their entire eight studio album discography. Last week fans were treated to a full rendition of last year’s quite excellent Hunter Gatherer and a greatest hits package to boot, which sadly I didn’t get to see. I say that with no small amount of feeling, as last year’s release earned a resounding ten out of ten from me and was just begging for the chance to be played live. This week’s show (with the moniker Illusions to reflect the fairy tale nature of the material it covers) is the turn of a fan-voted set list compiled from the Feathers & Flesh and Avatar Country albums. There’s more to come - for the next two Saturday’s in January, you can catch the remaining shows which will pull tracks from their remaining five studio albums as they work their way backwards in time through their remaining discography. 

Getting access to the shows was technically a little bit perplexing, but worth the hassle and as the final five minutes counted down, we witnessed the nice touch of having uploaded footage from the fans shouting the band’s name to create bit of the much needed live atmosphere. A nice touch and a clever move away from the frequently impersonal nature of these kinds of performance. Given that the set list has been chosen by the fans, this whole event feel more about us that it does the band and it is nice to see them get the streaming treatment, as I have to confess to being slightly disappointed that their contribution to last year’s European Festival Alliance / Bloodstock substitute used an archive festival recording.

The show opens with Johannes Eckerström soloing us into the set with Regret on a grand piano before nonchalantly walking over to a more traditional stage setting with the rest of the band. It felt very theatrical, which is absolutely what these guys do best. It was moody, effective and a taste of what was to come, with the band resplendent in their Feathers-era stage garb of red stockings and pom-poms. I am not sure that it’s a look that’s ever going to become as ubiquitous with Metal as a pair of Nu-rocks anytime soon, but fair play to them for their persistence with it. To be honest once the synchronised head banging starts, they’ve got you and the next hour just flies by as they rip their way through pretty much the whole concept album (with only Fiddler’s Farewell and Sky Burial missing from the set, I think most fans will feel they were well served in that regard). 

One interesting point to note is that the show was not a live stream per se, but more like a series of one take live concert videos, which gives the advantage of a multiplicity of scenery, props and effects to add to the mix but still keeps the rough and ready ‘as live’ feel. It’s a bit like watching 1950’s TV – we get a good ten to fifteen minutes of warts and all live playing (bum notes and cameramen getting in the way and all) and then a blackout as they pause the tape to move the band or the furniture around. They also employ the old 50’s semi-theatrical technique of following individual members of the band between the different sets, whilst those not on screen run round the back to their new positions. It sounds clunky, but it’s absolutely part of the claustrophobic feel that they seem to be trying to create. This feels in direct contrast to what most streams try and do with wide angles and soft lighting to try to make the punters feel like we were in a big open space (with Wacken’s CGI main stages being perhaps the most extreme example). The locked in feel absolutely works with this material however as well as touching a contemporary nerve, adding to the other worldly and slightly nightmarish feel of the show, to which Eckerström’s psychotic ringmaster is the finishing touch.

After a full hour there was even an intermission for two minutes to allow for a plausible costume changes, make up freshening and bladder emptying (which fortunately saw the back of the red pom-pom socks) and then we were straight into a slightly shorter set of Avatar Country material. This time the approach was slightly different, with a shorter selection of tracks and this time not entirely in original recording order. With Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jalrsby ensconced on his throne, desperately hoping that the Game of Thrones-esque fireworks behind him don’t set his dreads alight, kicks things off with Glory To Our King. Just to make things interesting, he also has an axe-cam perched on the end of his flashy red Ibanez, which is shows you how disconcertingly close he actually was to the pyro. This is made doubly disconcerting as Johannes Eckerström periodically wets his whistle from a petrol can in the background and nicely suspends the disbelief that this is all coming from a nice safe studio somewhere in the vicinity of Gothenburg.

These streamed shows can be very hit and miss and they’re not for everyone, but I can firmly state that this for me this was a very palpable hit. Although Eckerström in particular was clearly missing the audience and his inter-song banter, although creepy as only he can be, was slightly less captivating in this setting. But frankly this is a ridiculously minor niggle. The shock rock style fits very well into this format, especially when the band play off of the tricks of the visual media language. Add to this blisteringly tight performances and a spot-on sound mix and you can’t really go wrong. Given that you got a full hour and forty-five minutes of material for this show you certainly get your money’s worth. And indeed the same last week and presumably for the two remaining ones to come on the 23rd and 30th of this month. There aren’t many things for Metal fans to look forward to in the current state of the world, but these two upcoming shows are definitely up there for me. 9/10

1 comment:

  1. This show indeed rocked. Will tune in this Sat as well!