After a rainy Memorial Day, Tuesday brought some very pleasant temps which made it a perfect evening to make the journey to downtown Minneapolis for Avatar at First Avenue. When I arrived at the venue, the atmosphere was electric and it was pretty obvious that the crowd was excited for Avatar to hit the stage. Riding on the back of their 2nd concept album, ‘Avatar Country’, it’s immediately obvious that the production values on this tour have been upped considerably. Avatar has always been known for putting on a show but Tuesday’s performance appeared to be pulling out all the stops.
I was unable to catch the opening performances from ‘68 and Dance With The Dead, however, talking to many in the crowd, the performances from both were very energetic and set the stage perfectly for the evening ahead.
Devin Townsend warmed the stage as the last act before Avatar. Devin recently released the album ‘Empath’ to much praise from both fans and the musical press alike. The album is a complex and highly provoking album, and many fans have been wondering how Devin planned to tour with it given the complexity and a host of other guest musicians. To “give him time to think” Devin decided to do something he’d done before but on a slightly bigger scale … a solo acoustic tour. Described by the man himself as “a way of slowly building up to the touring of Empath with the start being stripped back to just the guitar and voice. With a stuffed sloth animal joining him on stage, the crowd was treated to a wide variety of song favorites … acoustic style.After a brief stage change, it was time for the crowd to visit Avatar Country. With the new album focussing on the ‘King’ (that is, their guitarist Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby) it wasn’t a huge surprise to see him entering on a huge golden throne with lanky, energetic frontman Johannes behaving like his court Jester. Starting the set off with ‘A Statue of the King’, the throne moves to the front of the stage for ‘Legend of the King’, a long track mainly comprised of guitar soloing to highlight Jonas’ talent. I was originally a bit worried how this track would translate to a live show but any reservations I had were immediately dispelled as the crowd erupted with a roar. ‘Paint me Red’ came next, flooding the stage with red light (my favorite photo moment … not!) and encouraging the crowd into a giant singalong. They then covered a mixture of songs from their previous albums, with an older track (‘Let it Burn’) from the 2012 ‘Black Waltz’ album. By the time ‘Smells Like a Freakshow’ came along, the crowd was in a shear frenzy, sweaty bodies everywhere with no sign of slowing down … especially for ‘Torn Apart’. After a short encore wait, the crowd went completely wild when Johannes reappears, to the point that the usually quick-witted frontman seems completely speechless and visibly moved for a few minutes. Once he regains his focus, he talks about how he felt nostalgic listening to some of the older songs. The entire set was (despite the early attempts to focus on guitarist Jarlsby) completely led by Johannes charismatic voice and affable chats with the crowd. He showed his true talent as a frontman and which seems to get better each time I see him along with the rest of the band. Everything they seem to do on stage is directed towards creating a bigger and better show, and, for the final songs of ‘Welcome to Avatar Country’ and ‘Hail the Apocalypse’ nothing showed this more and truly fed the ecstatic crowds delight. The First Avenue performance was a fantastic show from a band who I cannot WAIT to see again, and I know for sure they will still manage to top this and somehow continue to raise the limits of their performances. Signing off from Avatar Country indeed!