It’s an absolutely FREEZING night in Manchester but the queue started forming early for tonight’s sold-out Avatar show. The atmosphere is electric and it’s pretty obvious that the crowd are particularly excited, especially as this gig is the biggest EU headline slot in the history of Avatar.
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 have always been known for putting on a show but tonight is going to be a corker!
First up, solo support act Dylan Walshe. Introducing himself with a dry wit and Irish lilt, Walshe is a surprise choice as the support act, with his acoustic guitar/harmonica combo maybe not having the energy the crowd was expecting, but his set is beautiful, understated and, strangely, fits right in. The reaction from the crowd is heartfelt and there was a general sense that people were pleasantly surprised by his performance. A good, if unexpected, choice!
Next to play are The Mahones. I first took their name as a take on ‘The Ramones’ but its more of a reference to the Pogues-as the phrase ‘Pogue Mahone’ is an Irish term to mean ‘kiss my arse’. Well, either way, the name fits, they are energetic, bonkers, and again, very very Irish! This reviewer may be a little biased as I married a Dublin boy but I thoroughly enjoyed their set, their punk rock sensibilities fit right in with this particular crowd even if, again, we weren’t expecting it. The crowd were definitely in the right mood for the headliners once these guys left the stage!
But we are all here for one reason; 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’, an 8-minute 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 and the pyrotechnics drive the crowd wild; I don’t think the relatively modest O2 Ritz has seen anything like this before! ‘Paint me Red’ comes next, flooding the stage with red light and encouraging the crowd into a giant singalong. They then cover a mixture of songs from their last 4 albums, with an older track (‘Reload’) from 2009’s self-titled, considerably less personality-filled, album, still happily received by the crowd.
By the time ‘Smells like a Freakshow’ comes along, the crowd is absolutely uproarious, sweaty bodies flying over the heads of those in the pit, with no sign of slowing down for ‘Torn Apart’. After the shortest encore wait in history (seriously, about 30 seconds) the crowd goes 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 old songs until he realised there were no metal songs in this playlist, and that realisation that this is because metal is timeless (with a little nod to Rob Halford) and the crowd are eating it up. The entire set is, despite the early attempts to focus on guitarist Jarlsby, completely led by Johannes charismatic voice and affable chats with the crowd. He is a great frontman and gets better each time I see him, as do the rest of the band. Everything they do is directed towards creating a bigger and better show, and, for the final songs of ‘Welcome to Avatar Country’ and ‘Hail the Apocalypse’ nothing shows this more than the absolutely ridiculous bubble blowing machines spilling thousands of bubbles onto the ecstatic crowd. A truly fantastic gig from a band who I cannot WAIT to see again, and I know for sure they will still manage to top this show somehow. Welcome to Avatar Country indeed!!!