You Had to Be There

Act 1 is a two-disc live recording featuring a longboat-full of the expected offerings from previous Tarja Turunen releases (“Phantom of the Opera”, “I Walk Alone”) as well as a smattering of new tracks to keep the older listeners piqued (“Into the Sun”, “Never Enough”).

The first five-odd tracks play like one tremendously long song, almost as though Turunen thought to herself, “I like this new sound I’m forging. Let’s run with it. Run very, very far with it.” Since leaving Nightwish, the Finnish songstress has clearly made leaps and strides into hardening up her vocals to offer a more aggressive, rocky style, and that serves to save those first twenty minutes.

After wading through the opening, the energy of the album ramps up considerably. Not in that ear-shredding, blood-pumping sort of way, but in a manner more authentic in a woman known for tromping about onstage in bloomers and a ball-gown. “Little Lies” listens like a slightly heavier ’80s anti-love song, which transitions to “Into the Sun”, itself taking the pace of the record to a more intimate, brooding intensity.

It’s around this time that we start in on the covers, which you sort of have to expect from Turunen. Nightwish’s “Nemo” rolls off Turunen’s tongue just as naturally, if not more poignantly, as before the grand break-up, drawing you into her world of perhaps-over-dramatic suffering. We then slide into Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night”, which is performed with verve, but lacks the intimate touch that would have taken her technical performance over the top.

Turunen hits her stride with “Lost Northern Star”, singing from the perspective of a self-flagellating guardian angel, and she doesn’t really let you go after that. The highpoint for me, and for anyone with an appreciation for music that dates back before the turn of the millennium, is the medley of “Where Were You Last Night/Heaven is a Place on Earth/Livin’ on a Prayer”. I mean, come on – transitioning between Anki Bagger and JBJ is not something one does lightly. Well, not on a metal record, anyway.

Perhaps a little bit late, Act 1 settles into itself. The last half of the second disc is soaked in all the pathos of a thousand “I’ve been there” orphans, some of whom want to cry, the rest of whom want to punch my kidneys. Capping the whole affair off with Led Zep’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”, a long-time fan favorite, is a fine enough farewell to a live show, but it doesn’t translate as well digitally as a grand finale. That isn’t to say Turunen doesn’t bring her Plant to the fore, doing Norwegian justice to the track. Instead, the final performance on Act One sums up the rest of the recording: you wish you could have been there live.