If you are familiar with Ayreon, you will probably know that these collaborative works of music are the brainchild of the somewhat reclusive Arjen Anthony Lucassen, and are rarely – if ever – performed live. September 2015 saw the presentation of The Theater Equation, four shows in which the album The Human Equation (Inside Out) was performed in its entirety in front of a live audience. While this was a successful endeavour, we had been assured for years that there would never be a live ‘best of’ performance of Ayreon.
You can imagine the pleasant surprise when the Ayreon Universe shows were announced. Three shows were to be held in 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands, in September 2017. It came as no surprise whatsoever that the shows sold out within hours, and while many fans traveled from far across the world to be present for this momentous occasion, a venue with a capacity of 3000 would never be able to house all those who would have liked to be present. Luckily for those who couldn’t enjoy the show in person – as well as those of us who could but wish to relive it – the shows were recorded by some thirty cameras to ensure that, this time, everyone can have the best seats in the house without leaving the comfort of their sofa.
So how does the musical extravaganza translate to the “big screen”? Very well, it seems. The massive screen behind the stage which features names of musicians, artwork, and occasionally lyrics is just as impressive as it was in real life, and the Ayreon Universe DVD (Music Theories Recordings) even adds the song titles for those who don’t yet know the entire oeuvre by heart. The many cameras have captured the expressions of the artists, which adds a lot of performance value, especially to the instrumentalists and Micheal Mills’ TH-1 as he delivers variations on the narration from The Final Experiment (Transmission / Inside Out / SPV) and Into The Electric Castle (Transmission / Inside Out).
As for the show itself, it really is a rock show of epic proportions! Songs are taken from the entire Ayreon oeuvre, as well as from Star One, which has been performed in the past. Some songs are performed by the original artists as if they were directly lifted from the album, such as Edward Reekers and Robert Soeterboek’s performance of ‘Computer Eyes’. Others are reinvigorated by new voices, whether kept similar to the original as with Jaycee Cuijpers’ rendition of ‘Dawn of a Million Souls’” or altered in style like Michael Mills’ stunning take on ‘Day 16: Loser’.
Arjen Lucassen himself rocks up at ‘The Castle Hall’ to great enthusiasm from the crowd, giving an impassioned speech about how this production came to be, how proud he is to have his project up on stage, and just how terrified he is on that stage. Several more spectacular songs build up to the big climactic ending with all musicians sharing the stage.
For those who haven’t quite had their fill after the two and half hours of music, the DVD also contains an almost ninety minutes of behind the scenes documentary, featuring all the ins and outs of the shows from conception to fan satisfaction. Arjen and Joost explore topics such as song and artist choices, visuals, and why exactly they refer to each other as “lul”. The artists explain what the process was like for them, from being asked to participate to actually performing in front of 3000 people.
If even that’s not enough, there is a short special with snippets of footage from the try-out show held at 013 on September 1st. There were only a few vocalists present, including some who aren’t in the main shows, and it is interesting to see how other people interpret the songs.