||BRIGHTEST LIGHT FOUND IN AMSTERDAM WITH THE GENTLE STORM AND CELLAR DARLING
The Gentle Storm/Cellar Darling
Melkweg The Max, Amsterdam
Saturday 17th December 2016
Words: Ian Sutherland, Pictures: Phil Vossen
Swiss musician Anna Murphy has packed a lot into her career already and is an experienced live performer, both with Eluveitie and as a solo artist. Even with that background she can be forgiven for feeling a little nervous coming out on stage in front of a sold out Melkweg for only the second gig ever by her new band Cellar Darling.
Formed with fellow ex-Eluveitie members Ivo Henzi and Merlin Sutter, as the lady herself explained from the stage the band was named after her 2013 solo album but is a totally new band project and not a solo effort. The onstage look of the four musicians (live line-up completed by bassist Rafi Kirder) line abreast across the stage may have been determined by the space available but it allowed them to really get a band vibe going as they eased into opening track 'Fire, Wind & Earth'.
The sound mix takes a little while to settle down but this audience having been nicely warmed up by comic Metal brass band Heavy Hoempa are hugely supportive and it's not long before the nerves have gone and it's all about the music.
Style wise the music is part folk Metal, part grooving rock and given real character by Murphy's plaintive, emotional, storytelling vocal style. Of course there is that unique hurdy-gurdy sound underpinning much of the set and few sights in Metal elicit as many smiles as seeing this folk Metal princess matching Ivo Henzi's riffing through new songs like 'Under The Oak Tree'.
Drummer Merlin Sutter gets to shine sometimes too, powering along the song the band was named after. That track was the only one aired from any of the band member's previous work but with songs like set closer 'Challenge' the lack of familiarity didn't stop them going down very well tonight. With more gigs under their belt Cellar Darling are going to be a band that make people sit up and take notice.
When Dutch legends Arjen Lucassen and Anneke van Giersbergen got together to do an album as The Gentle Storm, it was a collaboration which excited fans of both of them. The subsequent album, 'The Diary', met the expectations of most, but from the time of the first live show with the touring musicians put together mainly by Anneke (as Arjen doesn't tour these days) something magic happened. The Gentle Storm became a genuine and dynamic live band.
That first show was at Amsterdam's Melkweg venue in March 2015 and so it is fitting that having announced that (for now at least) The Gentle Storm will go on hiatus, it is in a jam packed Melkweg that they will play their final show.
Starting off with the familiar opening of 'Endless Sea', two things are immediately and abundantly clear to me; the band are hungry and eager and really ready to play and Anneke van Giersbergen has a voice that no amount of touring can put a dent in. Her singing had already given me goosebumps. By the huge roar that greeted the end of the song I wasn't alone in my assessment and the audience proved to be really hungry and eager too.
The following trio of songs from 'The Diary' created a fantastic atmosphere in the hall and the energy felt like it might lift the roof right off. The vocal exchanges between Anneke and Stream Of Passion's Marcela Bovio in 'Brightest Light' were a delight and drummer Ed Warby and bass player Johan van Stratum (another Stream Of Passion alumni) drove the dramatic energy of 'The Storm' along at a furious pace.
The starting line-up tonight featured Within Temptation's Ruud Jolie alongside Ferry Duijsens on guitar but as the night wore on there was a revolving door of guitarists alongside Ferry starting with Jord Otto replacing Jolie on 'The Storm'.
After a raucous celebration of Anneke's past in The Gathering's 'Eleanore' we got the first guest appearance from Xandria vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen in 'New Horizons' and then the band members filed off stage and it was time for the show's lead van Giersbergen to start an acoustic section.
Given how loud this crowd had been up to then, it's really impressive how the simple star presence of their favourite singer with an acoustic guitar got them to quiet right down. There was a genuine hush as this most charismatic of singers performed Kate Bush's 'Cloudbusting'.
I wondered if this sudden change in tone would allow the energy in the room to dissipate but 'The Moment' featuring Joost van den Broek on piano was spine tinglingly good and covers of Ayreon's 'Valley Of The Queens' and 'Isis And Osiris' went down a treat with all the Arjen fans in the house. The three pronged vocal attack of van Giersbergen x2 and a Bovio on the latter tune could be a hint of how the Ayreon live shows next year might look.
Hugely popular original TGS guitarist Merel Bechtold had by this time joined her old bandmates on stage and on the Agua De Annique song 'Witnesses' she really threw herself into it as the energy levels on and off stage went sky high once more.
Anneke's regular collaborations with Devin Townsed were celebrated with a terrific version of 'Numbered', featuring yet more great vocals from the band's two regular singers and then The Gathering's 'Strange Machine' brought the main set to a shattering, sweaty, heavy ending.
Of course the crowd woudn't let them go without hearing more so an encore featuring more of The Gathering in 'In Motion #1' and a final TGS track, 'Shores Of India', brought proceedings to an emotional close. It was a nice touch too when Arjen, who had been watching from the wings came on to take a bow with the band.
If this was the last ever show from the band under The Gentle Storm name then it was certainly a fitting finale. Much of this show was just about as near perfect a match between musicians, songs and audience that you just couldn't see how it could be any better. Possibly a tinge of sadness then that this band's era is over but with Anneke taking most of these musicians on into her new, heavy and progressive project, Vuur, the future may well be where the brightest light will be found. What a night though.
The Gentle Storm