HELLOWEEN PUT ON GREAT SHOW WITH A DAZZLING DISPLAY OF MUSICIANSHIP
Date: May 23, 2023
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
After having trekked all the way from Toronto to Montreal (about a six-hour drive) to see Helloween in 2016 and 2018, I was pleased that the German power metal veterans had elected to come to Toronto after a ten-year absence. I don’t blame Helloween for skipping Toronto during their last couple of tours as from my experience, the province of Quebec (where the city of Montreal is located) is a much bigger supporter of heavy metal than the province of Ontario (where I, fortunately in many ways, but unfortunately music wise, reside). I just have to think back to when I last saw Helloween in Montreal in 2018. They were playing the MTelus venue which has a capacity of 2,300 people. You could feel the buzz on the street where the venue was located and the place inside was absolutely packed. On the other hand, History has a capacity of 2,50o people and although there was a sizeable crowd attending the concert, there was quite a bit of room to manoeuvre throughout the general admission area and the venue certainly did not feel full in any respect. On top of that, Helloween were touring with Hammerfall this time around and the latter would presumably be able to draw some concert attendees that might not have came if it was only the former on the bill. Back in 2018, Helloween didn’t have an opening act in Montreal although they had the novelty of having singer Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen back in the line-up (which still remains this time around).
In any case, I was pleased to only have to drive 25 minutes or so to make it to the History venue rather than drive all night back to Toront0 like in 2016 or sleep seated with no leg room on a rather uncomfortable Greyhound bus (the company has since gone bankrupt) on the way back to Toronto in the wee early hours of the morning like in 2018. This time around, it was simply much more convenient to attend the Helloween concert although the atmosphere wasn’t as good as it had been during my prior times in Montreal. Not being a fan of Hammerfall, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed that Helloween would pair up with such a heavy band for their current United Forces 2023 World Tour. It reminded me of when Accept were “co-headlining” a tour with Kreator a number of years back. I wasn’t impressed with that combo and skipped that tour even though I really like Accept. But Helloween are a level above and since I’ve been faithfully following them through thick and thin since the Walls of Jericho days (and since they don’t make it out to Toronto that often), I wasn’t going to miss out on their show simply because I didn’t like their almost co-headliner.
Incredibly as I write this, the Helloween tour stop on May 23rd was my first concert for 2023. Part of that has a lot to do with the concert industry, which I don’t think has rebounded yet from the dreaded Covid pandemic and which seems to have greatly limited the amount of international bands that make their way to Canada these days. Part of it has to do with my own life changes due to the Covid pandemic. Seemingly gone are the days where I might attend one to two concerts per week since even if I wanted to, there are just a lot less concerts (that I might like) to attend. In fact, rather than see Hammerfall play at History, instead I happily played a match in a tennis league at my local club knowing that I would likely have just enough time to get home, shower and make it to the concert venue. I had seen from a recent Helloween show that the German rockers had once gone on stage at 8:50 pm so I assumed this would be the case for Toronto. Luckily for me, I arrived a little earlier because this time around, Helloween started their headline set at 8:30 pm! I had arrived with only minutes to spare!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist taking a sneak peak on setlist.fm on what Helloween‘s setlist would be in advance of the concert so I knew pretty much what they were going to play. I was a little disappointed on how few tracks were going to be played from Andi Deris‘ era since aside from the new songs from the band’s self-titled album, there was only a measly three songs — namely “Power”, “Forever And One (Neverland)” and “Perfect Gentleman” — featuring the singer with the longest tenure in the band, that were included in the live set. Excluding Helloween‘s latest album which features Deris, Kiske and Hansen taking turns on lead vocals, Deris was the lead vocalist on ten of Helloween’s prior studio albums while Kiske only sang on four albums and Hansen of course only on the debut full-length record Walls of Jericho. I get why the emphasis would be placed on the two Keeper of The Seven Keys era albums, which were represented with seven out of the 15 (I am including “How Many Tears” and “Save Us”) tracks that were played live.
Helloween also threw in three songs from their latest self-titled album. While I do like bands to showcase their new material, I was disappointed that “Skyfall” was selected as one of those tracks since I consider it the weakest song on Helloween, it clocks at over 12 minutes and the band could have easily played two other songs during that time span. In any case, Helloween did open with “Skyfall.” There is always a sense of excitement with that first song played from any band that you are looking forward to see in live setting so “Skyfall” was still an enjoyable performance and it was definitely fun to see Deris, Kiske and Hansen each handling a portion of the lead vocals. The stage set up seemed to be very similar to the one utilized by the band during its Pumpkins United World Tour 2017-18 with the drums set up quite high and a spectacular backdrop sometimes seemingly in a frame and showing various images along the way. This time around though, we did not get the comic relief that the group used during their last tour between many songs with animated pumpkin related videos showcasing the next song to come.
Helloween performing “Skyfall” live at History in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 23, 2023 (video footage from shits and giggles‘ YouTube page):
What struck me throughout the concert was how great the band sounded and in particular the stellar singing from Deris, Kiske and even Hansen. After seeing other acts shamefully and “secretly” rely on backing tracks (I am thinking in particular of KISS frontman Paul Stanley and of course Mötley Crüe) or being subject to singers whose voice has left them a long time ago (I am thinking of many here including Don Dokken, Jon Bon Jovi and David Lee Roth), it was nice to see true musicians displaying their exceptional skills. I would be very disappointed if I heard later on that some or all of the three Helloween singers did use backing tracks on this night but that’s not the impression that I got while seeing them play live. In Kiske‘s case, he stands quite still when singing so you can see that he is really concentrating on singing his out of this world high pitched vocals whenever it’s his turn to sing. I always love seeing Deris on stage as even with Kiske taking about half of the lead vocals, you can see Deris singing along or mouthing off the lyrics away from his microphone. I always have the impression that Deris is really enjoying himself whenever he is up there on stage. I also liked seeing the genuine camaraderie amongst the band members while they were on stage.
Helloween performing “Future World” live at History in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 23, 2023 (video footage from Heavy Fraga‘s YouTube page):
Helloween performing “Power” live at History in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 23, 2023 (video footage from shits and giggles‘ YouTube page):
To their credit, Helloween came up with quite a different setlist from the last time that I saw them in September 2018. Of course, the usual staples such as “Future World”, “Power”, “Dr. Stein”, “Eagle Fly Free” and “I Want Out” were included in the setlist for this time out. However, when you take into account that Helloween played 21 songs in Montreal back in September 2018 and (unfortunately) reduced their song count to 15 in Toronto this time around (a likely consequence of having Hammerfall on the bill with them), they were still able to play five + songs this time around that they had not included in their Montreal setlist. Those five tracks were the three new ones from their Helloween album (“Skyfall”, “Mass Pollution” and “Best Time”) along with the beautiful Deris penned ballad “Forever And One (Neverland)” and one of my favs, “Save Us.” The “+” tracks that I am talking about are the excerpts of “Victim of Fate” and “Gorgar” that were included in Hansen‘s old school Helloween medley. I have to say that it was such a treat to hear “Save Us” and it reminded me of when I was a young lad listening to Keeper of The Seven Keys Pt II on vinyl at a very high volume in the living room of my mother’s house. Both Deris and Kiske were very good at getting the Toronto crowd to sing along and of course there are many opportunities to do so with songs like “Future World”, “Power”, “Mass Pollution”, “Perfect Gentleman”, “I Want Out” and the list goes on.
Helloween performing “Save Us” live at History in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 23, 2023 (video footage from shits and giggles‘ YouTube page):
Getting back to the setlist, although I was happy to hear many different songs this time around but I kind of wished that Hansen’s medley of old school Helloween tracks along with “Heavy Metal (Is The Law)” had been cut out from the set this time around. I just find that Helloween‘s songs got a lot better after that Walls of Jericho album. Nevertheless, I get why Helloween would include these songs in their set with Hansen being part of their line-up. It was fun, and a first for me, to see Hansen start off his Helloween medley without a guitar strapped to his shoulder. He actually did an admirable job as a true frontman moving around the stage with a microphone in his hand. Another unnecessary segment of the show was Sascha Gerstner‘s guitar solo. While it led nicely to “Best Time”, the song that he co-wrote with Deris on Helloween, I would rather hear another song than witness and listen to an extended guitar solo.
Helloween wrapped up the festivities with “Dr. Stein” and “How Many Tears” before coming back out for two sets of encores. “Perfect Gentleman” kicked off the first encore and it is such a fun song with Deris getting the crowd to scream “Perfect” for just about anything. I particularly liked the ending of “Keeper of The Seven Keys” where Gerstner continually played the key guitar melody while the various band members introduced each other while proclaiming that each was “the best [insert position in the band] in the world.” Things finally came to a conclusion with the classic Helloween track “I Want Out” which had Kiske and Deris spit the audience into half to sing two different parts of the song. Overall, and despite my minor quibbles about Helloween‘s setlist, I had a great time at the concert and can’t wait for the band’s next album and the next time that I get to see them live. As far as I am concerned, seeing Helloween live is a “can’t miss” event whether the group plays in Ontario or six hours away in la Belle Province (Quebec).
02. Eagle Fly Free
03. Mass Pollution
04. Future World
06. Save Us
07. Metal Invaders / Victim of Fate / Gorgar / Ride The Sky
08. Heavy Metal (Is The Law)
09. Forever And One (Neverland)
10. Guitar Solo (Sascha Gerstner)
11. Best Time
12. Dr. Stein
13. How Many Tears
14. Perfect Gentleman
15. Keeper of The Seven Keys
16. I Want Out