Rock City. This legendary venue has seen an immeasurable amount of musical talent over the years, and in the last six, I have seen many bands on the heavier end of the spectrum of music grace its stage. However, since moving away from Derbyshire and into the land of cream teas, I haven’t had many opportunities to return here. When I saw that the mighty Blind Guardian were to perform there, I couldn’t resist but make the four hour drive to witness them play Rock City.
Before the day came, however, the support for the show was announced in the form of the power metallers, Gloryhammer [4/5], making the trip even more worthwhile. An early start sees the band on stage at 6:30pm, but this doesn’t stop the crowd from immediately engaging with the band as they open with a duo of songs from their latest album ‘Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards‘. The song ‘Legend of the Astral Hammer‘, in particular, has the crowd singing along enthusiastically to its incredibly catchy chorus, with smiles all around as they gaze at the green armour-clad frontman Thomas Winkler, who has also armed himself with said hammer as a stage prop.
At this point, it is difficult to ignore the poor sound coming from the stage, where the drums sound as though they aren’t even coming through the PA system and the lower tones seem to be lost almost completely, but this does not deter the crowd from enjoying the set on this Saturday evening. They continue to sing along to ‘Hail to Crail‘ from the band’s debut album ‘Tales from the Kingdom of Fife‘, whilst fist pumping and cheering is commanded by singer Thomas.
So far, it seems like a typical, overly cheesy power metal set, however, those in the know, or with a keen eye, may have spotted Alestorm’s Christopher Bowes on keyboard duties, clad in a wizard’s robe, hiding his face with its large hood. Some of the keyboards can be compared to the symphonic elements of his pirate metal counterpart, but this just goes to show that he has a recognisable style with his instrument.
Mid set, we are introduced to the guitarist, Paul Templing, and the bass player, James Cartwright, who gave amusing monologues (with a voice changer in the guitarist’s case!) which kept the show interesting and fun. The latter of these was slightly bizarre as the crowd begin to chant ‘HOOT!’ over and over, as he downs his cider on stage, proclaiming that we do not wish to see him shirtless anymore, and that he now gets paid to drink on stage. All this leads into a song entitled ‘The Hollywood Hootsman‘ from their second album.
Just as you may think it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, they break into ‘Universe on Fire‘ which features a club like thumping bass and has them ‘two-stepping’. This was surprisingly one of the most entertaining of all the tracks, and had a lot of people embracing the mash-up of genres.
Finally, they close with ‘The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee‘, to the audience’s delight, where the show is rounded off with more sing-alongs, fist-pumping and cheering. They take a bow and chants of ‘HOOT!’ break out once again. All in all, despite some “off” sound, it was quite a unique experience surrounded in Scottish-themed silliness, and they certainly did a great job of warming everyone up for the main feature of the night: Blind Guardian.
Word of mouth in the room was that Blind Guardian [4.5/5] were going to have a 17 song long setlist that lasts for over 2 hours. And they were correct. Their first time in Nottingham in their 30+ years of existence, and they bring a colossal setlist for us to gobble up and indulge ourselves in. Opening with ‘The Ninth Wave‘ from their latest album ‘Beyond the Red Mirror‘, the 9 minute epic is received by an ecstatic and cheering crowd. Already, you can hear the room booming with a thousand voices singing along to every word, despite this album only being a year and a half old. Unfortunately, a few sound issues crept their way in from Gloryhammer’s set, and the same lack of low-end taints the experience slightly.
Hansi Kürsch then addresses the crowd with his great humour and confirms that they will be playing a very special long set, but jokingly claims that most of it will be ‘taken up by him speaking to the crowd very slowly’, to which the crowd laughed. Once done talking, the band performed two classics from one of their greatest albums ‘Nightfall in Middle Earth‘ one after the other: ‘Time Stands Still (On The Iron Hill)‘ followed by ‘Nightfall‘. The singing from the crows intensified and during parts of the choruses, Hansi hardly had to sing at all.
The set continued to feature absolute classics such as ‘Fly‘, ‘Tanelorn (Into the Void)‘ and ‘Prophecies‘, but it was the ending of ‘The Last Candle‘ which really emphasised the fantastic atmosphere in the room. The crowd simply refused to stop singing the line ‘Somebody’s out there‘ from the outro of the track, and in that moment, the room felt completely united.
Before you could get your voice back, they proceed with the ballad ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ which keeps the singing louder than ever and changes up the near perfect setlist a little. Next, we revisit the ‘Imaginations from the Other Side‘ album with the ever popular ‘Bright Eyes‘, then ‘The Script for My Requiem‘ and lastly the titular track ‘Imaginations from the Other Side‘. Hansi says an entirely unconvincing goodbye to the raring crowd, as they leave the stage prior to the first of two encores this evening.
‘Guardian!’ is chanted over and over again, to lure the legends back onto the stage, so much so, that it begins to sound like ‘Cardigan!’ to my companions and I, which kept us amused for the rest of the show. They return with a trio of ‘Into The Storm‘, ‘Journey Through the Dark‘ and crowd favourite ‘Valhalla‘. The last of these indicates to one concert goer that it is time to blow up a giant inflatable banana and throw it around the crowd. Similarly to the ‘cardigan’ joke, my friends and I began to sing ‘Banana!’ in place of ‘Valhalla’ in the song’s chorus. Also, the epic ending of the song where the crowd again refuses to stop singing the chorus over and over was phenomenal. I think this lasted longer than the song itself!
Another encore, and we enter the final songs of the vast set. I felt as though many fingers were crossed for the epic opening track from ‘At The Edge of Time‘: ‘Sacred Worlds‘, and our prayers were met as the brilliant intro for this song begins to play over the PA.
Of course, the acoustic guitars then came out as we cleared our throats for the greatest sing-along song in the whole of metal history: ‘The Bard’s Song‘. Every time I go to see Blind Guardian, this is the song I look forward to the most, because of that uniting atmosphere it creates when everyone in the room belts out every last word, and even some guitar parts! Hansi barely sings any of it, and that’s just fine, because we’ve got this covered.
And to finish off: ‘Mirror, Mirror‘. Another absolute classic to round off a stunning setlist that didn’t feel as long as it was. There wasn’t any point where I was aware of my feet hurting or any moment that I was bored and looking at the time, hoping the end of the show was near. Somehow, Blind Guardian made over two hours of material seem like it was all over in a matter of minutes. And the crowd were left in awe as everyone excitedly expressed how much they enjoyed the show to their friends that they had been singing with for the last four hours. A few people told me it was in their top 10 shows of all time, and I believe that is rightly so, after that night’s performance.