Ayreon Universe (Blu Ray) – Ayreon
Well Arjen Lucassen is back with another new release only this time it’s a live concert and not a new album. I have to say this is quite a spectacular show that the guy as put on and arranged with Joost van den Broek. It must of took a lot of time, effort and money to bring Ayreon to the stage for the first time and this really is quite an amazing concert and performance put on by all involved.
Although The Theater Equation was a live stage performance of Ayreon’s 2004 album The Human Equation which consisted of 4 live shows that was put on in September 2015 in Rotterdam. They were not performed as an official Ayreon product. Whereas the shows put on last year in September 2017 for this release where.
To be honest I am not entirely sure how the official thing comes into play and could even count just because The Theater Equation was released by Inside Out Records and this was released via the Mascot Label Group. But the one thing that is certainly different here is that Arjen as finally plucked up the courage this time around to appear live in some of the performances himself, and that may just merit as to why Ayreon Universe is perhaps more of the official product.
The Packaging & Artwork…
The packaging I have to say is a very welcoming new way of presenting a Blu Ray. I myself have never been fond of the standard plastic cases that Blu Ray’s come in. I think the plastic looks cheaper and more flimsy than the standard DVD plastic case. This may have something to do with the light blue colour of them giving it that cheaper appealing look.
The only thing I did like about them was the fact that they come with a blue strip along the top of the case, which made it more easily so you could spot a Blu ray from a DVD. But for me this packaging is much more suited for the product in my opinion. They have made a Digipak version of the casing with cardboard, and as you can see from the picture below, they have even kept its blue identity strip.
Inside you still have your firm strong plastic tray holder to house the disc, and a pocket as been provided to house the booklet. OK you could say that using cardboard is perhaps not a durable as plastic in that it can be damaged easier or even be harder to keep clean. But overall I think it looks and appeals a damn site better, and if you treat your discs with respect in the first place, I am pretty sure you will not have a problem with this type of packaging.
It comes with a 20 page booklet that contains photographs and information of all the singers and musicians as well as all the linear usual production notes and some stage pics. It’s perhaps does not contain enough information for my review here, but it’s very neatly presented and quite adequate.
The artwork appears to be a collage from Ayreon’s album covers pieced together and was done by Lori Linstruth. Arjen Lucassen and Roy Koch. The layout was also done by Roy Koch. I quite like the Gold Leafing that as been applied to it as well to which is very hard to capture with a digital camera.
So far online I have not seen one image that truly captures the genuine look of the front cover, and I would say the one I used right at the top of my review is the closest. It really looks great. Gold or Silver Leaf is very hard to print as well, and no inkjet printer could print it either. You need an high quality Laser Printer to be able to do so.
The Media Format Releases…
Ayreon Universe was officially released on Good Friday the 30th March. As with all major releases they come with a variety of media formats to suit your personal pocket. For example the 5 Disc Earbook that comes with 44 page hardback book looks very attractive and it comes with 2 CD’s. 2 DVD’s and a Blu Ray for 49 Euro. Is perhaps value for the money.
But personally for me the only attraction here is the book and nothing else. I do not see the point in having the CD’s & DVD’s as well as the Blu Ray. As far as I am concerned the Blu Ray is the only thing I would watch. The rest of the discs would just gather dust I am afraid. Plus this type of package is going to be a lot harder to store on the shelf, and take up a lot of space.
Vinyl lovers will perhaps like the 3 LP Edition which comes in a choice of standard black or Gold vinyl which once again is very reasonably priced at 29 Euro. But for me personally this is a pointless release and I would much rather prefer to see the show, not just listen to it. So for me personally the DVD or Blu Ray will win every time for a live concert. But whatever floats your boat I suppose.
I pre-ordered the Blu Ray from Amazon a couple of months in advance on the 30th January and it arrived on the day of its release. I could of got it signed by Arjen himself if I pre-ordered it from his website and the price of 14.99 Euro was attractive. But with so many things on pre-order I had to watch the pennies and even though I ended up paying £15.62 for it from Amazon. It still would of cost a bit more if I ordered it from Arjen because of the postage and packing.
Setting Up The Show…
For those like myself who know the works of the many projects Arjen A. Lucassen as been involved in over the years, he is perhaps one of the most successful artists who works from his own studio writing and producing the many albums he has put out over the past 3 decades, without having to go out and play live. He has sold albums by the bucket load and a lot of that success is really down to the many well known artists he brings in to make his projects work so well.
I have to confess the only project of his I myself really buy into is his Ayreon project. I have enjoyed this project since I first stumbled across it in the early 2000’s and have been a fan ever since. I admire everything about the guys music and the way he goes about it. He is a very talented musician.
Even though The Theater Equation was a live show of Arjen’s music done back in 2015 he was never involved in the creative process of that show and never played live in it either. He only made an appearance at the end of every show as a stand in producer and was involved in mixing the sound for a live release. Arjen has not played live since the 80’s when he was with the band Vengeance.
Since then he as always feared playing live, and set up his own solo career and created the many projects he has been involved in his own space at home.
The Ayreon Universe is an Ayreon live in concert for the first time ever, organized and arranged by Arjen A. Lucassen and Joost van den Broek. It took some 2 years to prepare and set it all up, and it was the first time any of these 2 musicians had ever done anything like this before. Setting up any concert this size and getting all the musicians and singers together at the same time to rehearse, especially when they are already in their own bands doing their own thing, has to be carefully planned.
Finding the right venue and having the worry if you can fill it up for 3 nights so they could capture the show on film for a later video release was another task. Plus the cost of all the stage gear and lighting, the stage crew and the cost of having all the animation made for the background is quite a risk to take on. The animation had to be worked on from day one and I have to say it’s quite spectacular.
The 013 in Tilburg was the venue they chose. It’s the largest music venue in the southern region of the Netherlands and holds capacity of around 3,000. Perhaps peanuts in comparison to the Genting Arena down the road from where I live. But just as Arjen sold out all the tickets for 3 nights in one day, I dare say he would of done the same at the Genting Arena here in Birmingham that can hold up to 16,000 with no problem at all.
The Singers & Musicians…
I dread to think what the cost would come to, to hire this lot to put on a show. To be honest I do not know a lot about these singers and musicians, apart from them being involved in previous Ayreon albums, and I have nothing of the bands they play in either. The only one who sticks out to me is perhaps Damian Wilson and I only know him from doing something with Rick Wakeman back in the early 2000’s. But Damian as appeared on quite a few Ayreon albums as well, and so have the many others here too.
Rick Wakeman himself as also appeared on an Ayreon album, along with other more well known artists I do actually know as well such as Keith Emerson. Fish. Bruce Dickinson. Mark Kelly. Jordan Rudess. Thijs van Leer. Clive Nolan. Neal Morse. James LaBrie. Heather Findlay. Martin Orford. Oliver Wakeman. Ken Hensley. Tomas Bodin. Steve Hackett and Paul Gilbert.
The one thing I can tell you about all of them, is that they are all very talented and have done a truly remarkable job.
Ayreon Universe (Blu Ray) In Review…
The Blu Ray contains the whole of the concert which runs for just over 2 hours and 20 minutes. The concert footage itself comes from the 2nd night of the 3 days they played there and it was filmed with 30 cameras on Saturday 16th September 2017 at the 013 Poppodium Tilburg Netherlands.
In total they performed 28 songs over the 122 minutes, 38 seconds duration and 26 of those were chosen from the 9 studio albums in Ayreon’s discography to date. The other 2 songs they performed were “Intergalactic Space Crusaders” and “The Eye of Ra” which were both from Arjen’s Star One Space Metal project.
The Blu Ray.
The main menu is animated and presents you with some background music and a rather nice moving star-field. The menu comes with easy enough options to choose from. “Play All” plays the whole of the featured concert. You also have your usual “Select Track” and “Audio Set-Up” along with a couple of bonus extras.
The “Select Track” option allows you to simply select any one of the 28 tracks you may want to play instead of watching the whole concert all the time. It’s a useful feature to have for quick access of a track you may want to show to your friends.
The “Audio Set-Up” is set to Stereo by default. For surround freaks like myself you will need to select the 5.1 Surround. The sound formats are quite low for Blu Ray standards in that there is no 96/24 though it does come with a DTS HD Soundtrack Master and both the stereo and surround formats come in 48/24.
The Bonus Features.
The bonus features are quite good especially behind the scenes which is presented by Arjen & Joost who set the show up. You get almost an hour and half documentary more or less showing you them booking the venue and signing the contract at the 013. Plus interviews with all the artists involved in the show, and a look at some of the gear they brought to set up the stage.
I did however notice quite a few audio glitches that cropped up around the 50 minute mark of the documentary and continued to do so throughout the rest of the documentary. But they was not that severe to spoil one watching it. Thankfully the glitches are only on this documentary and not on the concert footage.
The other bonus feature runs for about 17 minutes and shows you clips of the try out performances of the many singers, and was filmed in the smaller of the 2 stages at the 013 which is the Jupiter Stage that holds a smaller audience capacity of around 700 people. This was filmed a couple of weeks before the main concert on the 1st September 2017 and it’s like a mini highlight of the show where they are rehearsing for the main event.
Picture & Sound Quality.
The picture quality is very good as should be expected for Blu Ray and I quite like the way it’s been very well professionally edited as well, especially as 30 cameras were involved. It’s a lot better editing than what was done with The Theater Equation that was released a couple of years ago.
To be honest I do not have that concert, but from what I have seen of it on Youtube the quick camera shots where it changes angles all the time to try and capture all the performers on the stage, is quite bad and put me off buying it. They have done a far better job this time around and it makes the concert very exciting to watch.
The stereo mix is very good and the sound quality is very good too. Arjen has always been good at mixing stereo. It’s 5.1 mixes is where he really fails and I do wish he would bring in a proper sound engineer who knows how to do a 5.1 mix, rather than try and take it on himself.
The 5.1 Surround Mix.
Surprisingly the 5.1 surround mix is not that bad as I would of expected coming from Arjen. I do admire his attempts in trying to work in this field and this is a lot better mix than what he did with the 5.1 mix on the last Ayreon album The Source. Though once again as good as he has done here, it’s not particularly very good I will say.
He did do a good job on getting the effects placed in the rear speakers that mainly come at the end, and in between the songs. Apart from that there is not a great deal I could say about how he has utilised the 6 channels, and I would still say that his stereo mix is better than the 5,1 mix.
I will give him a 7 out of 10 for his effort and he is improving slightly I feel. But for a show as spectacular as this. A good 5.1 engineer would of brought out the best here for real, and this type of show really needed someone of that experience to do the 5.1 mix as well. Arjen still as a lot to learn and working in this field is far more complex than working with a stereo mix. You need the right head on your shoulders, and Arjen does not have that quite yet I am afraid.
On To The Show…
I have to say everything about this show is very spectacular. Even the singers themselves have the right acting skills to pull off the theatrics even though they are not real actors themselves. They have done a truly amazing job. The musicians are also class and everybody on the stage as managed to pull off quite a perfect performance. I am sure Arjen must be overwhelmed of how this lot truly done justice to his great music.
Besides all the highly talented singers and musicians. I have to take my hat off to the guy who worked on the animation for the backdrop at the back of the stage. This is really Science Fiction at it’s best the way the animation as been done. It even adds to the excitement of it all and this is one massive rock opera in space, even down to all the costumes. They thought of everything to put this magical show across and done a bang on job of it all.
Regarding the set list of 28 songs. I honestly do not know where to start for my review here, there is far too many of them, and it would take me a lifetime to go through them all, so I am not going too either. My only real disappointment is they never played “The Day That the World Breaks Down” from the last album The Source. But I guess it was because its 12 and a half minutes long, and they wanted to pack in as many songs as they could to feature the best of Ayreon.
The show opens up with the prologue. Which is basically an intergalactic short story that Mike Mills (one of the many singers) introduces the show with. He’s dressed in some cosmic outfit and is wearing some strange helmet on his head. The top part of it looks like the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge once lived in there :)))))).
The show then proceeds with the first song which is “Dreamtime” from the very first Ayreon album The Final Experiment. The prologue is also from the same album though it’s been slightly changed for the opening speech. “Dreamtime” is one of the 2 songs from this particular album that gets featured in the show. The other song “Merlin’s Will” get it’s live airing a bit later on.
The “Abbey of Synn” is one of 3 tracks that gets featured in the show from Ayreon’s 2nd album Actual Fantasy. The albums self titled track and “Computer Eyes” appear much later on in the show, and the show sort of gets off to the kind of start where you may think the songs are running in the order of which the albums came out. But it’s not the case as “River of Time” from the 7th Ayreon album 01011001 pops up next on the list.
To be honest I am not a massive fan of Ayreon’s 7th album 01011001 as many others are, and in total 5 tracks from this album are in the set-list, more than any other album. Though thankfully they have all been spaced out and appear through various stages of the show.
Then we get a couple of tracks from Ayreon’s 8th album The Theory Of Everything. Now this is one of my preferred albums and much more down to earth on that score. And it was great to see this album get 4 of it’s tracks featured in the live show here.
Both Ayreon’s 4th and 5th albums the Universal Migrator Part 1 & Part 2. Draw the short straw perhaps, and only 1 track from the 1st part, and 2 tracks from the 2nd part get a live airing at the show. To be honest I personally think both of these albums are better than 01011001 though all 3 of of these albums I have always regarded the weakest out of all 9 Ayreon albums. Though they do have their moments no doubt.
You could say that Ayreon’s 6th album The Human Equation also got the short end of the straw with only 2 of its tracks being featured here. Though this was perhaps understandable down to the fact that the whole of the double album got played a couple of years earlier on the stage in the The Theater Equation. The Human Equation is another one of my favourite albums that is also down to earth, and it was great to see at least a couple of its tracks performed live here.
The latest and 9th album in the Ayreon discography The Source amazingly only gets 2 tracks played live here from it. Thankfully they are both from the 1st of the double album that makes up this album. The first of the tracks does not appear until about 40 minutes into the show to which is the “Star of Sirrah“. The 2nd of them “Everybody Dies” comes towards the shows climax much later on around the 1 & 3/4 hour mark and its quite a dynamite of a performance.
You can see if for yourself from the video of it Arjen posted on his Youtube channel. You will also get to see Mike Mills with his suit and Worzel Gummidge Helmut :))))).
Though as much as “Everybody Dies” is certainly one of the best highlights of the show. The best is still yet to come, and straight after this song Arjen himself makes his first appearance on one of the 4 songs that’s featured from my ultimate favourite Ayreon album Into The Electric Castle.
He perhaps takes it a bit easy on “The Castle Hall” and afterwards he gives quite an emotional 11 minute speech. Tears of joy come streaming from his eyes and for a man who literally is scared of performing live he does extremely well delivering this speech in praise of all the performers and the audience.
Then after his speech we get what I would call the ultimate highlight of the show as he plays one of my favourite tracks from my favourite 3rd album of his Into The Electric Castle with the band, and he does the song “Amazing Flight In Space“. Arjen not only handles the lead and rhythm parts of it on the guitar but also sings on it. For a guy who is shitting himself this is quite a performance and something to behold.
He needs to do it a lot more, and at the end of this performance he leaves the stage and the band play out the final song of the show before reappearing once again with all the singers and musicians on the stage to take a bow to the audience, and be congratulated by them for putting on one really superb enjoyable show from start to finish.
To sum up the Blu Ray version of Ayreon Universe (The Best Of Ayreon Live). It’s pretty much an outstanding live Rock Space Opera full of spectacular live performances from all the singers and musicians. There is no doubt they got it all right on the night and practically performed Arjen’s great music to perfection.
Even though quite a lot of the songs have been shortened to cram all 28 songs you get here, it does not take anything away from the show, and I even quite enjoyed some of the songs I was not that fond of in the first place for being here, and how well they was all performed.
It’s that good of a performance that I do not even miss the fact that some of the singers never actually sang on some of the original album tracks. Though there is quite a lot of the original singers here, but even those had to sing songs they had never sang before, and handled them superbly.
To conclude my review of Ayreon Universe. I would say that a show like this would perhaps appeal to many and not just fans of Arjen’s great music. Simply because it has all the theatrics and stage presence one would find in even a much bigger show that perhaps artists like Meat Loaf and Queen have brought to the stage in the past.
The fact it’s also done on a lot smaller stage, and they have utilised the space very well to cram this lot on to it. Is also very good. The whole production and performances are nothing short of spectacular and it’s a very enjoyable concert from start to finish.
Both the picture and sound quality is very good and the video footage captured from all 30 camera’s as been edited very well and make it all more spectacular in that it captures the performers at the right time. The bonus material is very good too, and for its price point even at £15.99 represents great value for the money.
Hey Dude, You’re So Uncool! But Hey, That’s Alright…
The Live Set-List is as follows:
01. Prologue. 4:50. 02. Dreamtime. 2:34. 03. Abbey of Synn. 4:17. 04. River of Time. 3:57. 05. The Blackboard. 1:52. 06. The Theory of Everything. 4:40. 07. Merlin’s Will. 3:09. 08. Waking Dreams. 3:41. 09. Dawn of a Million Souls. 5:09. 10. Valley of the Queens. 2:50. 11. Ride the Comet. 3:42. 12. Star of Sirrah. 5:54. 13. Comatose. 2:59. 14. Loser. 4:43. 15. And the Druids Turn to Stone. 4:43. 16. The Two Gates. 10:27. 17. Into the Black Hole. 6:11. 18. Actual Fantasy. 1:25. 19. Computer Eyes. 4:34. 20. Magnetism. 4:57. 21. Age of Shadows. 4:37. 22. Intergalactic Space Crusaders. 5:35. 23. Collision. 3:35. 24. Everybody Dies 5:02. 25. The Castle Hall. 6:36. 26. Arjen’s Speech. 11:11. 27. Amazing Flight In Space. 6:13. 28. Love. 4:05. 29. The Eye Of Ra. 7:35.
2 thoughts on “Lee Speaks About Music… #70”
Have only watched the video, but as you stated it is a highlight and a good appetizer for the band: Though the band should appeal to me – Metal-elements, Prog-elements, Queen-like choirs, technical brilliance of all musicians involved – I must confess, that the music doesn’t touch me. It’s very well arranged and played, but not that unique and close to many offerings in the Progressive Metal field. The focus on elements close to the genre “Musical” might be the part of their style, which makes them stand out from others, but what goes on behind doesn’t impress me. Then I would prefer a classical opera.
I quite like it myself and even the keyboard player is very impressive in my opinion. To be honest I am not normally into Rock Operas like this with lots of other people on the stage.but this one was done really well I thought and eve the animation that was created for the show was superb as well.