Concerts

Avatar Ages: Live Stream Review

Avatar spent the month of January streaming its 4-part concert film Avatar Ages

Who: Avatar

When: January 9, 16, 23, 30

Where: Live Stream


Overview

Swedish metal band Avatar spent the month of January streaming its 4-part concert series, Avatar Ages, to its fans. Each week the band picked a theme around which a performance was produced.  For each performance, they picked a set of albums and played selections from each.  The series was broken into four chapters: Age of Dreams, Age of Illusions, Age of Madness, and Age of Memories.

Avatar is Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby (Guitar), John Alfredsson (Drums), Johannes Eckerström (Vocals), Tim Öhrström (Guitar), and Henrik Sandelin (Bass).  They are a melodic death metal band which was formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2001 by Jarlsby and Alfredsson. They have released 8 studio albums, Thoughts of No Tomorrow (2006), Schlacht (2007), Avatar (2009), Black Waltz (2012), Hail the Apocalypse (2014), Feathers & Flesh (2016), Avatar Country (2018), and Hunter Gatherer (2020).

When I was approached about covering the series, I had the option to review a single show or multiple shows.  In 2019 I was able to photograph and review one of Avatar’s concerts.  Ages seemed to be a good opportunity to see how Avatar could translate an in-person live experience into an on-line experience.  After watching the first stream, I was intrigued and decided to watch the all the chapters intending to write one review for the entire series.  However, in hindsight this was probably not a wise decision because there were so many unique and interesting storylines that it was difficult to capture everything, resulting in an exceedingly long review.  

An Avatar concert is as much about theatrics as it is about the music.  Rabid fans swarm to see a crazy band and wild show.  Visuals are always a huge part of the band’s performance.  The lighting, attire, makeup, and theatrics are all are essential to the band’s presentation and appeal.  The live stream shows maintained everything that you would expect to see at an in-person show.  Johannes with painted face, hat, and cane. The band dressed in medieval attire.  Loud music with heavy distorted guitars, crazy guitar solos, machine gun drumming, hair windmills and of course Johanne’s mixture of barked-growled and operatic like clean vocals. However, the question was would the band have anything more to give.

A friend of mine, who is a huge Avatar fan, wasn’t inclined to pay to watch the shows on his computer.  His thoughts were that he could just go on YouTube and watch one of their concerts. This is one of the big obstacles that bands must overcome when producing a live stream concert.  How to make it different and appealing.  In Avatars case, they just did what they do best, amp up the theatrics and transform it from a concert into a full-blown stage production.

 At one point during the series, Eckerström stated the if it wasn’t for the pandemic, the band wouldn’t have been able to do this.  Usually, the band performs on a single stage which comes with limitations. However with Avatar Ages, the band used multiple stage sets allowing them to have more freedom of movement and better express their personalities.  This was perfect for Johannes who is kind of an enigma.  A metal artist that studied piano as a child and wanted to be a conductor.  Someone that was influenced not only by bands like Black Sabbath and Helloween, but also by Hollywood musicals, Beethoven, and the Beatles. He was born for a bigger stage and this situation provided him the platform allowing him to put on a Broadway like production complete with intermissions.

Eckerström displayed his musical talents throughout the series playing piano during each chapter and at one point even pulling out a trombone at one point.  His charismatic, albeit creepy, personality was on full display. Even in the absence of an audience, Johannes still talked to the fans talking about topics which set the stage and flowed seamlessly into the next song. There was classic Johannes prancing across the stage, swinging his arms with cane in hand bearing a wide grin on his face. There were the menacing stares and comical interactions with other band members.

Avatar is a band that utilizes two lead guitar players.  Jarlsby and Öhrström are highly skilled, technical guitarists who showcased their skills during the course of the series.  They each took turns soloing and at times soloed together remaining perfectly in synch with each other. The way their fingers moved around flawlessly along fretboard, displaying amazing tapping skills was a sight to see.

The band member who benefited the most from Avatar Ages was drummer, John Alfredsson.  Normally, a drummer is stuck behind his drum set most of the night.  However, due to the multi-set arrangement and nature of the production, Alfredsson was able to leave his drum and move about during transitions from stage set to set.  This allowed various skits to be developed around him to let out the comical side of his personality.


Dreams

The first chapter of the series was Age of Dreams. The band played all the songs from their latest album, Hunter Gatherer, from first to last, plus a selection of Avatar’s favorite songs. It started with “Silence in the Age of Apes” featuring a galloping guitar intro by Jarlsby. The entire band went into their hair windmill routine.  This chapter set the foundation for future shows consisting of multiple stage sets including one containing a wall with multiple doors and others with changing backgrounds with illuminated themes. The band made several costume changes with Eckerström commenting “costume changes because I’m that damn important.”

After the band played “God of Sick Dreams”, all the members left the stage except for Eckerström.  All alone on the stage he kept repeating the lines “This can’t be happening. I’m not awake” with fear and panic in his voice and on his face. Then he screamed “I have to wake up” and which time the band appeared and launched into “Scream Until You Wake”.  This is something he did throughout the series, using dialogue to transition into the next song. Another example was prior to “Child” where Johannes was on the floor curled up in the fetal position.

The band played songs from all eight of their albums during the four chapters, but one theme they drew upon for both Age of Dreams and Age of Illusions was Avatar Country.  This is a concept album built on a fantasy kingdom, Avatar Country, complete with a ruling king.  The focus of the album is Jonas Jarlsby as the King.  During “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country”, Jarlsby sits on a throne wearing a robe and crown, playing guitar with sparks shooting in the air behind him. After the song, he stands and a male servant walks over, bows, and takes his guitar. Jarlsby then proceeds to the next stage set where the other members are lined up waiting.  He walks down the line, hands on hip, inspecting each member who in turn bows in his presence. A servant girl appears with a red velvet pillow. She kneels and the King places his throne on it. The male servant re-appears and hands him his guitar, again bowing. Jarlsby then launches into “A Statue of the King”.

The chapter ended with the song “Hail to the Apocalypse” featuring a drum intro by Alfredsson with the rest of the band joining in. There is a pause and Eckerström walks on stage pushing a big red box on a cart. He starts cranking a handle and the song continues with Johannes screaming out the vocals.  As he cranks the handle, a video displays on the background showing the A-bomb being loaded into the Enola Gay and later being dropped with an ensuing nuclear mushroom cloud.


Illusions

The second chapter of the series was Age of Illusions. The band played a fan voted setlist comprised of songs from the Feather & Flesh and Avatar Country albums. It opened with Johannes at the piano playing and singing the intro to “Regret”.  Öhrström contributed an amazing guitar solo. 

At the conclusion of “New Land”, the band walks up to Alfredsson still siting at his drums.  The room goes black and Alfredsson appears in a new stage set with a room full of doors.  He hits his drum and Jarlsby enters from a door with both members remaining motionless.  Alfredsson hits his drum again and Öhrström enters from a different door again with all three motionless.  This continues with Sandelin an then Eckerström appearing.  The band commences to play “Tooth, Break, & Claw”.  The song takes on a Pulp Fiction vibe at times reminiscent of the dance seen from the movie. Johannes hilariously dances The Twist ala John Travolta. 

Illusions allowed Alfredsson to shine.  After “For the Swarm”, the room empties again except for Alfredsson.  He stumbled from set to set with a blank look on his face that was Charlie Chaplin like.  He would sit down at a drum, hit it, look confused and then move to the next set with a different set of drums.  It was hilarious.  When he finally finds the set he likes, he keeps playing and the others come out and join him.

Jarlsby recreated his King scenes like the ones from Dreams.  After “King’s Harvest”, Eckerström explained “We choose to call this particular evening you are participating in Illusions. We call it Illusions because the two albums from which the songs we play tonight come from, are all created as figments of imagination. Little slices of fantasies. Fiction made and created to reveal greater truths than a more factual piece of literature ever could…What that means is tonight is all about the fairy tales, the fantasies, the magic.” He then started talking about love for the King which flowed directly into “The King Wants You”.

The chapter ended with each band member leaving the set through a different door except Jarlsby, who remains behind.  He removes the guitar from around his neck and places it upright in front of him.  The King then holds his hand up in the air and commences to blow kisses.


Madness

For the third chapter, Age of Illusions, the band played a fan voted setlist comprised of songs from the Black Waltz and Hail the Apocalypse albums. The band opened with “Hail the Apocalypse” with Johannes reprising the scene from Dreams with him cranking the box with nuclear explosions in the background. The song featured a finger tapping solo by Öhrström. 

During “Torn Apart”, Johannes pranced across the stage, swinging his cane in the air, drinking water (hmmm) from a plastic gas container.  He reflected in Age of Memories that he has had this can since 2005.  An acquaintance informed him at the time that it probably wasn’t wise to drink from a plastic gas container due to its chemical composition. Johannes subsequently joked that he probably only had a short time to live.

Johannes Eckerström besides being a talented musician and vocalist is also multi-lingual.  He was raised in Sweden, but his mother spoke exclusively German when he was younger, so he grew up speaking German.  Most of the band’s songs are in English which Johannes speaks fluently.  However, he performed two non-English songs from the Black Waltz album, Blod in Swedish and Tsar Bomba in German.

Eckerström’s description of the show was “Tonight we give you madness.  We give you madness because madness might just be the best medicine there is when the world goes mad and we go madder.” He continued talking about the audience viewing the show on cell phones and computers stating “It’s not quite the same because there is always something missing. I miss you guys. I missed you for a year.  I missed you for so long because we are making art here, but this is just half of the art.  This is just the sketch work.  This is just the outlines.  You bring the brushes. You color in the empty spaces between the lines.  You paint us. I miss having you here painting”.  This led into the song “Paint Me Red”

At the conclusion of “Paint Me Red”, the band left with Johannes continuing to sing the lyric “paint me red” over and over in different pitches and volumes.  Alfredsson reappeared and timidly walked up to Johannes and gave him a nudge to get him to stop.  This started another Chaplin like chase scene with Johannes chasing Alfredsson through the different sets and in and out of doors. He eventually catches him and forces him into him drum seat. The band then played “Puppet Show” which had a circus sound to it.  At one point Johannes pulled out a trombone and started playing it.

Essential Workers have been extremely critical during the pandemic.  Eckerström talked about these workers and indicated that he is not one.  He said that “It is weird to be here. We’re here alone yet we feel your presence. We’re not very essential…but still to be perfectly honest if feels pretty darn essential to us to get to do what we love to do.”

The chapter ended with the song “Smells Like A Freakshow”.  In these times of madness, maybe bands like Avatar are essential for all of us to escape, at least temporarily, the stress we are all suffering through.


Memories

The last chapter of the series was Age of Memories. Like the previous two chapters, the band played a fan voted setlist this time comprised of songs from the band’s early albums Thoughts of No Return, Schlacht, and Avatar.

This show was different from the others. The band performed unmasked with no makeup for the first time in a decade.  Elaborate costumes were replaced with all black jeans and shirts. Other than the windmills there were no other theatrics, just hard driving metal.

It was clear that the Avatar album was a fan favorite.  Johannes commented that the band was forced to perform every song from the album due to the results of the fan voting.  Scanning the chat room, the audience was really hyped for this album.  They commented how much Jarlsby and Öhrström have improved as guitar players since the early albums.

This show was all about the band’s memories and beginnings as a band.  The stage set they performed in had walls covered in Avatar tour posters.  Johannes sarcastically referenced a previous band member.  These were the years during which the band was still growing up.  He said that the Avatar albumcontains five drinking songs, four f*cking songs, and one video game song, which describes their during that time.

The chapter ended with “Lullaby”.  The band continued to play while Johannes walked off the set and went backstage with the camera following him.  He took his shirt off and walked outside the building, staring at the city’s illuminated skyline.  Memories seemed to be the audience’s favorite chapter of the series with one in the audience commenting “Best concert of the four.”


Recap

The best way to wrap up this review is to circling back to the question as to of whether it was worth spending money to watch this series.  The answer is a resounding yes.  Ages presented content that would never be experienced during a live in-person performance.

As bands release more and more albums their repertoire of songs increases.  The result is there are a lot of songs, especially older ones, that they are unable to perform live. As such, newer fans never get to experience some of these songs live. During Avatar Ages, the audience was able to see the band perform 61 different songs, some of which hadn’t been heard live in years, if ever.  This wouldn’t have been possible without this type of series.

Ages was a blended concert and stage production.  Beyond the music it allowed Eckerström, Jarlsby, and Alfredsson to act out roles which created a unique and interesting way for the show to transition from song to song and from one stage setup to another.  Alfredsson was the comedian, Jarlsby the King, and Eckerström the narrator.

The musical performances were flawless.  Jarlsby and Öhrström shredded their way through song after song.  Alfredsson and Sandelin provided solid rhythms keeping the band in time.  Eckerström displayed his piano skills on several songs which most of their live shows typically don’t allow.

One member in the audience, Dagarik, commented “These 4 concerts were such a g*d damn blast. After a year with pretty much no culture, no live music. THIS brought a smile on my face. I had no idea how much I needed this.” I think this perfectly summed up Ages.

I had never heard of Avatar prior to photographing them in 2019. I walked out the doors that night being a new fan. Watching Avatar Ages has left me even more impressed with the band and it was definitely worth the price of admissions. There were no photos for these shows, but you can check out photos from my previous review here. The first three chapters have passed, but Age of Memories is still available for a couple more days at the link below.

Tickets: Avatar Ages: Age of Memories

Check out Avatar at Web | Instagram | Facebook| Twitter | Apple Music | Spotify


Chapter Setlists:

Age of Dreams

  • Silence in the Age of Apes (Hunter Gatherer)
  • Colossus (Hunter Gatherer)
  • A Secret Door (Hunter Gatherer)
  • God of Sick Dreams (Hunter Gatherer)
  • Scream Until You Wake (Hunter Gatherer)
  • Child (Hunter Gatherer)
  • Justice (Hunter Gatherer)
  • Gun (Hunter Gatherer)
  • When All But Force Has Failed (Hunter Gatherer)
  • Wormhole (Hunter Gatherer)
  • The Eagle Has Landed (Feathers & Flesh)
  • For the Swarm (Feathers & Flesh)
  • Glory to Our King (Avatar Country)
  • The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country (Avatar Country)
  • A Statue of the King (Avatar Country)
  • Let It Burn (Black Waltz)
  • Bloody Angel (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Smells Like a Freakshow (Black Waltz)
  • Hail the Apocalypse (Hail the Apocalypse)

Age of Illusions

  • Regret (Feathers & Flesh)
  • House of Eternal Hunt (Feathers & Flesh)
  • The Eagle Has Landed (Feathers & Flesh)
  • New Land (Feathers & Flesh)
  • Tooth, Beak, and Claw (Feathers & Flesh)
  • For the Swarm (Feathers & Flesh)
  • One More Hill (Feathers & Flesh)
  • Black Waters (Feathers & Flesh)
  • Night Ever Ending (Feathers & Flesh)
  • When the Snow Lies Red (Feathers & Flesh)
  • Raven Wine (Feathers & Flesh)
  • Glory to Our King (Avatar Country)
  • Legend of the King (Avatar Country)
  • The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country (Avatar Country)
  • A Statue of the King (Avatar Country)
  • King’s Harvest (Avatar Country)
  • The King Wants You (Avatar Country)
  • King After King (Avatar Country)

Age of Madness

  • Hail the Apocalypse (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Torn Apart (Black Waltz)
  • Blod (Black Waltz)
  • Napalm (Black Waltz)
  • Black Waltz (Black Waltz)
  • Let it Burn (Black Waltz)
  • Paint Me Red (Black Waltz)
  • Puppet Show (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Ready for the Ride (Black Waltz)
  • Vultures Fly (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Tower (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Murderer (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Get in Line (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Tsar Bomba (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Bloody Angel (Hail the Apocalypse)
  • Smells Like a Freakshow (Black Waltz)

Age of Memories

  • Schlacht (Schlacht)
  • My Shining Star (Thoughts of No Tomorrow)
  • Stranger (Thoughts of No Tomorrow)
  • Die with Me (Schlacht)
  • All Hail the Queen (Schlacht)
  • Queen of Blades (Avatar)
  • The Great Pretender (Avatar)
  • Shattered Wings (Avatar)
  • Reload (Avatar)
  • Out of Our Minds (Avatar)
  • Deeper Down (Avatar)
  • Revolution of Two (Avatar)
  • Roadkill (Avatar)
  • Pickf*cker (Avatar)
  • Lullaby (Avatar)

Post by Scott Raymer (Website | Instagram | Facebook)

What is your favorite Avatar moment? Comment below.

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