Savatage Founder and Mastermind Jon Oliva Makes History
6/16/12 – The Ritz – Tampa, FL.
Written by Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen
Photo credit Robert Cossack
Jon Oliva’s Pain (JOP) is touring Europe throughout June and July, hitting Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Italy, and more, celebrating 25 years of Savatage. Since Savatage no longer tours, this is the closest thing to actually seeing a live Savatage concert. Before leaving for Europe, JOP performed a ‘one-off’ show in their hometown. Being the die-hard Savatage fan that I am, I HAD to be there! And, to top it off, I found out that JOP set up a sound check and meet and greet the day of the show! After waiting three long months, the day finally arrived. I was all set up for the 4:00 PM sound check, and then planned to go back to the show later that night.
Just 100 fans were allowed into the JOP sound check, and I was so glad that I was one of them. While waiting for the show, I talked to people that had traveled from Chicago, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Canada. As Sava-fans entered, they were given a ‘goodie bag’ with an autographed 8×10, t-shirt and laminate. When I walked into the main room, Oliva was already sitting behind his keyboards, casually talking to fans. I said a quick hello, and scoped out the scene.
They took almost a full hour to get their sound exactly right. Oliva even joked once saying, ‘this is why we do sound checks, because shit is always wrong.’ They started, and stopped, several Savatage songs throughout the sound check. It was such an intimate setting. Jon sang and played the keyboard for most of the set, taking the floor a couple times to sing “24 Hours Ago” and “Power of the Night,” and check the sound from every area of the stage. Before they played “24” he jokingly called it “24 Hot Dogs to Go.”
As JOP were deciding what song to play last a few people yelled “Sirens.” Oliva said that if he hears one more person ask for “Sirens” he’s going to come out there and beat them! They decided on “The Price you Pay” which was absolutely amazing to hear live because it was the FIRST time they had EVER played it live! Funny thing is, Oliva actually blew out the microphone mid-way through! Hopefully they worked out all the ‘bugs’ and they don’t have any technical difficulties at the show.
Within minutes of the last song, Jon was down on the floor mingling with fans, and taking pictures. He truly is an amazing human being. We are blessed to have him, his music, and his talent in this world.
I went back to The Ritz a few hours later and was really looking forward to seeing Damond Jiniya’s new band Retribution. They were on a side stage playing Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole.” The drum set was really unique, and as it turns out, drummer Shawn Lowery made it himself, and calls it “The Beast.” The drum set was sitting in a twisted tree, made of steel, with each drum and symbol stand on individual branches. The next song they played was Savatage’s “Edge of Thorns.” I was in absolute heaven. Just looking around the room, seeing all the love for Savatage, and watching hundreds of people scream every word, was really touching. It has been a long time since I felt that kind of love. (Jon Oliva – Sauget, IL. 2008) Retribution also played Pantera’s “Walk,” Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”, and Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon” before it was time to get ready for the first main stage band, Seven Kingdoms.
The female fronted power metal band Seven Kingdoms performed an original set, followed by Queensyche cover band Jet City. I was looking forward to seeing them because I knew the drummer Dave Wrenn from his other band Overlorde, and the keyboard player was John Zahner (JOP/Crimson Glory) Singer Jay Hajj resembled Geoff Tate in look and style, and they were pretty much right on. They played a great selection of Queensryche songs, focusing mostly on “Empire” and before. Songs include “Empire,” “Operation Mindcrime,” “The Mission,” “Breaking the Silence,” “Silent Lucidity,” and more.
Finally, the time had come…The lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and the “Visons” instrumental from “Handful of Rain” played over the P.A. The band members took their places as His Majesty entered the stage cloaked in a red cape. All the band members were wearing t-shirts in honor of Matt LaPorte, the bands previous guitarist that passed away last April.
Jon Oliva sat down at the keyboards for the first song of the night… “Gutter Ballet!” It was quite a bit different than the sound check! The place was packed, adrenalin and excitement filled the room, and the stage was washed in colors from all the lights. Oliva introduced the next song, “Edge of Thorns,” and asked us all to sing along. I think every single person in the club sang along, with fists in the air to match.
From there JOP played the song that first got me into Savatage almost 20 years ago, “Edge of Thorns.” Although Zachary Stevens originally sang it on the “Edge of Thorns” CD, and I just saw Retribution perform it live in the other room, adding the JOP touch to the song was just magical.
Oliva dedicated the next JOP song, “Death Rides a Black Horse” to his brother Criss. I was a bit surprised to hear the next song was “Sirens,” considering what Oliva said earlier, but only a handful of us knew, and Oliva belted out the vocals and hit all the screams as if it were 1983. The set consisted of mostly Savatage songs, from the “Edge of Thorns” CD and before, with a few JOP songs, and a Doctor Butcher song mixed in.
After one of the three JOP songs, “Walk Upon the Water,” Jon Oliva introduced his favorite song that his brother Criss ever wrote…. “Ghost in the Ruins.” After this rockin’ tribute, Oliva left the stage while the rest of the band continued jamming while we all awed in prog-rock heaven. Fans went wild when the band played “The Price you Pay.” There were only a few of us who knew the ‘secret’ from earlier, and it went off without a hitch. Just playing this song live made Savatage history!
Typically bands, especially progressive metal bands, wouldn’t end a show with a ballad. However, this is one of the circumstances when it was more than acceptable.
The band ended their fabulous performance on a personal and emotional level with “Believe.” Oliva poured so much of his heart, soul, and being into the song that when I looked around the room I noticed there wasn’t a dry pair of eyes in the house. Ending this spectacular celebration of Savatage on such a touching, and emotional level couldn’t have been any better.
With smiles intact, heartfelt sentiments, and love, fans made their way to the side stage to catch Retribution’s second set, where they were performing both originals and covers.
Overall, it was such an amazing experience, from start to finish. Just sharing my love for Savatage and Jon Oliva with a room full of like-minded people was incomprehensible. It felt like home… I am so thankful I was experience this event, and make Savatage history.
For anyone who loves Savatage/Jon Oliva as much as I do, I hope that this review made you feel like you were right there with me. If you’re in Europe and/or the UK, you can check JOP dates at www.jonoliva.net. Also, Zachary Steven’s band, Circle II Circle, is playing the “Wake of Magellan” CD in its entirety at Wacken (in Germany) August 2nd – 4th.
Please see below for the entire set list:
- Intro: Visions Instrumental (Savatage)
- Gutter Ballet (Savatage)
- Edge of Thorns (Savatage)
- Death Rides a Black Horse (Jon Oliva’s Pain)
- Sirens (Savatage)
- Festival (Jon Oliva’s Pain)
- Don’t Talk to Me (Doctor Butcher)
- Power of the Night (Savatage)
- Tonight He Grins Again (Savatage)
- Walk Upon the Water (Jon Oliva’s Pain)
- Ghost in the Ruins (Savatage)
- 24 Hours Ago (Savatage)
- Beyond the Doors of the Dark (Savatage)
- Strange Wings (Savatage)
- Legions (Savatage)
- The Price You Pay (Savatage)
- Devastation (Savatage)
- White Witch (Savatage)
- Prelude to Madness (Savatage)
- Hall of the Mountain King (Savatage)
- Heal My Soul (Savatage)
- Believe (Savatage)