I'm not keen on bands playing whole albums all the way through, simply because you know exactly what is coming next and the element of surprise at the set-list is taken away but this worked extremely well and Jon Oliva and his band had the good sense to add a couple of twists to keep it interesting.
Not that they had to try too hard to do that. 'Hall Of The Mountain King' was more than well worthy of a revisit and throw in a handful of Savatage classics and you have a set that will please any fan of the band. And that's precisely what we got.
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This was the last night of a month long tour of Europe, with one date in UAE thrown in, and the band members were delighted with how it had all gone. Bassist Jason Jennings was slightly overwhelmed by one Italian fan who had contacted him to say how much he had enjoyed the Milan show and that he was getting the money together somehow to fly to London for the final night.
"It makes me feel that I did do something worthwhile with my life..." he told the small gathering of punters and journos who had showed up mid-afternoon to get a few words from the band.
Several Savatage die-hards in that group were delighted that the band members gave them as much time as they wanted. Jon had however stayed back in the hotel to catch up on some sleep but Jason, Chris Kinder, Joe Diaz and Jerry Outlaw clearly enjoyed chatting with the fans and gearing up for one final performance of a tour that seems to have given them added impetus for the months ahead. More on the future shortly.
The attendance at The Garage was ever so slightly disappointing and the band, for some reason, did not have their own equipment, and were instead relying on the support band's backline but this did not deter them from putting on a real monster of a show and neither did the keyboard 'malfunctions' that Jon experienced in the early parts of the show.
'Sirens' cut through the air like a sharpened knife and the screams of delight that greeted 'Gutter Ballet' and 'Edge Of Thorns' served as a huge welcome to one of Metal's greats.
'Edge Of Thorns'
And then a surprise as Jon introduced a song from his and Chris Kinder's offshoot band Doctor Butcher. 'Don't Talk To Me' fitted in perfectly into this first part of the show and deserves to be kept in the set.
Jon was in good spirits, bantering easily with the audience, his light-hearted and jovial 'conversation' providing extra entertainment value and I have to admire the man's capacity for vodka consumption. Long time followers will be aware that Jon likes a drink on stage and the customary bottle of vodka was handed to him during the intro to 'Power Of The Night'...
It was all but gone by the final numbers and I was eyewitness to the fact that he opened another at the end of the gig. I was also eyewitness to one of the most explosive double guitar solos I have ever seen.
'Ghost In The Ruins' was to be the final song of part one of this fabulous set and it was topped off by a good four minutes of mind-bending soloing by Jerry Outlaw and Joe Diaz which really can only be described as jaw-dropping. Unfortunately no video appears to exist for this, probably the highlight of the whole show.
Then it was straight into the 'Hall Of The Mountain King' set and the songs from this drastically under-rated and sometimes overlooked album flowed perfectly and seamlessly. By now Jon was in full flow and his intro to 'White Witch' is a fine example of the whole spirit of the night.
No Jon Oliva gig would be complete without a tribute to Jon's fallen brother Criss, only this time round, Matt La Porte was sadly included in that tribute too.
"They'll be up there together smoking a big, fat joint..." said Jon.
Joe Diaz certainly had big shoes to fill on this tour but he more than pulled it off, along with his new partner Jerry Outlaw and together they cooked up a storm and provided London with a masterclass of virtuosity. Well played J and J. Unbeatable!
It was a nice touch to save the '...Mountain King' title track until the end of this part of the set and it was a pleasure to hear the whole album performed like this.
One of the burning questions at the end of the gig was whether other albums would be performed in their entirety on future tours and I can exclusively reveal that 'Gutter Ballet' will be given a full airing on the next tour.
There are plenty more surprises in store from JOP as well in the coming months and in many ways, it feels like the band are on the verge of hitting great heights again. On this performance alone, they appear to have taken on a new lease of life and in person, are most definitely well up for the next chapter in the story of what is undoubtedly a massive Metal institution.
Part three of the show was emotional to say the least and with hindsight, it would have been even more so. Jon's rendition of 'Child In Time' was superb and took on extra signifiance the following day when Jon Lord sadly passed away.
Then it was straight into 'Believe', possibly the definitive 'Savatage' number and one that will remain a massive crown pleaser for all time. Check it out for yourself...
'Child In Time/Believe'
Jon Oliva remains a Metal mammoth and the future for JOP is more than bright. The band he has assembled to keep these classic songs alive are collectively and individually unbeatable and totally deserving of a much bigger night in London than this. But for those who were there, it is a gig that will stay with them for good, somewhere in time probably.
This is my gig of the year for 2012 so far and it's going to take something extraordinary to knock it off top spot. Hail!
Edge Of Thorns
Don't Talk To Me
Power Of The Night
Ghost In The Ruins
24 Hrs. Ago
Beyond The Doors Of The Dark
The Price You Pay
Prelude To Madness
Hall Of The Mountain King
Child In Time