Opeth: Live Review
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
April 9th 2010, The Wiltern, Los Angeles CA: Swedish legends Opeth were back in our city less than a year since they played at the Avalon, but this time it was one of only six shows around the world, on their 20th anniversary tour named 'Evolution XX: An Opeth Anthology', coming to an end tonight. We really do feel blessed to be chosen as one of the cities to witness this spectacle. The line outside the venue was huge and it extended to wrap around the whole block by the time the doors opened at 8 o' clock. Of course it did, as the show was sold out and a large chunk of the tickets were of the general admission category. Some hardcore fans were waiting since as early as 8 AM in the morning, coming from places like Utah and even Panama. Why wouldn't they? This was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of show. As it turned out, everything about this show was amazing, not least the fact that there was no opening act. It was all about Opeth tonight. After seeing this 'an evening with' show for the first time, I now wish every band did this, or at least some of them did. There was a bit of a wait though after the doors opened. To the amusement of most of the people present, a certain musician named Kenny G was in the pit. The lights went out at 9.30 and the moment had finally arrived.
The band appeared on stage among rapturous cheers as they wasted no time in jumping into the first Blackwater Park song 'The Leper Affinity'. This song might be more than12 minutes long but there isn't a single dull moment in it. The head banging and wind milling was going on at full tilt at least in the first few rows of the pit. Opeth is a 'strictly no gimmicks' kind of band. They don't even have any stage props or backdrops. All you see is five musicians, their instruments and the amplifiers, standing and playing some of the most beautiful music ever made. The brilliance of Mikael Akerfeldt allows for death growls and clean vocals within the same song. The clean parts are of course where the crowd gets a chance to be involved. The same was the case here, as he sang the lyrics in the interlude 'Lost are days of Spring, you sighted and let me in'. Most people sang along to this. From this first song alone, I knew that the band was in top form, the crowd were in their highest spirits and I could just feel that this is going to be a special night of some Godly music.
As promised, they continued playing the same album with the next song 'Bleak'. It was as enjoyable as the first one. Besides the vocals about which I already mentioned, it's amazing how the guitar sounds vary dramatically. There are heavy riffs that make you bang your head and then there is the pure guitar sound, a guitar connoisseur's delight. This is apparent in this song as well and the band do a sublime job at replicating the same effort live, succeeding in creating an impact on the listener that's even better than the studio version. The crowd was awe-struck. I could tell that they were enjoying, appreciating and absorbing every moment of this so far. The Opeth avalanche continued with 'Harvest'. This band really wastes no time when they are on stage. They didn't even stop to address the crowd during the entirety of the Blackwater Park set. Harvest was more mellow, but equally enjoyable all the same. The ambience fitted the music during this song with the lights and the wonderful acoustics of this historic building. Mikael's clean guitar strumming was an absolute delight to listen to.
More of the same brilliance was on display in the rest of the Blackwater Park set, including the next song 'The Drapery Falls'. According to me this is the best song on the album and possibly the best Opeth song. It was just a surreal feeling experiencing this in a live setting. The band tweaked it a little bit though, which kind of surprised me. It wasn't the exact studio version. They added a guitar melody over most of it but it was still definitely identifiable. Frederik also faced a problem in the early part of the song with his effects pedal, due to which he fell behind on the rhythm, but only momentarily so. Part of this song is possibly Opeth's heaviest work and got the crowd going nuts, while the acoustic part is on the other extreme. Breathtaking would be a huge understatement. Anyway, before I end up writing a whole book on the first set itself, I would like to mention some other highlights in the remaining songs. One of these was Mikael's guitar solo in 'Dirge For November', a solo in the purest sense of the word with the other instruments going completely silent. 'The Funeral Portrait' was much like a punch in the face after a totally contrasting song like Dirge. 'Patterns In The Ivy' was really short and sweet, while the title song served as a perfect end to the set, incorporating all the elements of the music we had gotten to hear so far. The band left the stage. So as it stood, I just saw Opeth played an album in its entirety, an album that is their best and comes close to being the best metal album ever recorded. But the night was far from over as we were in for a lot more.
After a short 15-minute break, the band reappeared to enthral us with more wonderful music and some amazing rarities. Talking of rarities, the first song of this set was from their debut album 'Orchid', the song called 'Forest Of October'. A lot of people would have been pleasantly shocked to get to hear this one. It was quite different from any of their recent songs and was a throwback of sorts. After this, Mikael spoke to the crowd for the first time. He is always simple yet funny with his little jokes and gestures. He told us that they were going to play one song from each album (except Blackwater Park of course) in this set, thus justifying the 'Opeth Anthology' part of the tour title. I wonder why every band can't be like this, delivering exactly what they promise before a tour. Another really old school tune followed, 'Advent'. Mikael did a great job at doing those vocals, which I thought were more of the 'guttural' type back when they did the Morningrise album. One of the things they used a lot more in this set was a screen in the background, showing the album artwork for every song and also a little bit of video here and there. The video combined beautifully with the music for this song in particular and I felt almost lost and entranced by it. It was mystical and dark.
As this was an anthology in the true sense, Mikael was telling us when exactly their line-up changed and each new member joined the band, including a mention for all the former members. He told us about ex-drummer Martin Lopez joining the band in 1997 before playing the song 'April Ethereal'. This song was almost entirely missing clean vocals but would have pleased the death metal fans in the crowd. Current bassist Martin Mendez was introduced as the next newest member for the 'Still Life' line-up before they played 'The Moor' off of it. It was absolutely incredible how they did this anthology without just picking the most generic and most popular song from these albums, something they could have easily done. It would have been easier for them to play them and would have been ideal for the new fans. But their aim for this tour was clearly much different. Next was 'Wreath' from the Deliverance album. This was one of the heavier songs of the night. The crowd was digging both the heavy and the softer parts of the music for sure. After that was the album I was most waiting to hear a song from, Damnation. It is definitely the softest Opeth album, but its something for a purist to admire. The song played was 'Hope Leaves'. The lighters were out for this one. I wish they played the Damnation album in its entirety some day. If need be, I'd travel to anywhere in the world to see them do it. After this trip-inducing song, Mikael introduced the keyboard player Per Wiberg after which they played 'Reverie-Harlequin Forest'. A very enjoyable song, it was on the heavy but slow side, which suited the head bangers just fine. After all, the music gets to your head and you would want to bang it, but not so hard, fast and for so long that you can't even move it the next morning! So thank goodness for slow songs.
Sadly it was time for the last song of the night, as Mikael introduced the most recent additions to the band, Frederik Akesson on guitar and Martin Axenrot on drums. He admitted that the band has had many line-up changes but also said that this is the perfect line-up and will be the same for the years to come. They gave this set and this night a fitting end with 'The Lotus Eater'. I enjoyed this song the most when they played it the last two times I saw them, but even this time, after the energy was all but drained out during the previous 15 songs, I managed to make the most of the last opportunity to enjoy a live Opeth song and so did the crowd. Overall, this was the best Opeth show I have ever seen and will see. It will surely be too hard even for the band themselves to top this. The venue was amazing with its sound and lights as it always is and the crowd were excellently behaved. Most importantly, the band gave a wonderful performance that was purely about the music. This is how an anniversary tour is done. Bow down to the mighty Opeth.
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