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London, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 25 September 2003

Well this was the 5th time that Opeth have played London in the last 24 months - for a band who didn't used to play live very often, they've certainly been very busy these last couple of years. I was actually seeing them live for the fourth time and I must admit that they grow on me with every show that I see. They seem to be gaining wider acceptance, with the crowd featuring a whole range of ages (I wasn't the oldest present), and with folks wearing not just the T- shirts you might have expected to see, but ones featuring Dream Theater, Hammerfall and even Manowar.

The downstairs section of the Empire was pretty full and so there were probably around 1100-1200 present in the venue. That, plus the bigger stage probably justified the band recorded a DVD at this venue rather than at the Mean Fiddler, which feels cramped at the best of times.

There were about 4 proper cameras in the stalls, circle and onstage, plus a couple of handhelds floating around. Martin Lopez's drums were sited back right of the stage, with a set of keyboards, back left, in front of a big backdrop with the O of Opeth on it. The other members of the band took up their usual positions at the front of the stage while the lighting was subdued - lots of purple, blue, green and some white I hope that they were bright enough to produce a crisp image for the DVD.

The band were due on stage around 8PM, but didn't actually appear until 8:15. As the intro music faded, they began to play Windowpane, the opening track of their Damnation album. Its a lovely tune which came over very well, not at all the typically loud, brash opening number, but then Damnation is a particularly mellow Opeth album. As the tune ended, lead singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt spoke for quite a long time, explaining that the band were actually fairly tense and were going to try and perform with no fuck-ups - something they achieved as far as these ears were concerned.

The first half of the show was intended to show the bands mellow side, and they played whole of the Damnation album straight through, save for the insertion of Harvest (from the Blackwater Park album) in between Ending Credits and Weakness. Mikael swapped back and forth between electric and acoustic guitars and for once I was able to see the face of bassist Martin Mendez as for once he wasn't metronomically headbanging his way through each of the tunes.

The performances were pretty much note for note as per the studio CD with the exception of Closure, where the band seemed to have fun with the second part of the song, speeding up considerably as the song came to an end. This was fantastic to watch (and hear), particularly the awesome drumming of Martin Lopez who impressed throughout the evening. Anyone who has avoided Opeth for fear of the growlly vocals would do well to check out the Damnation album, since this features only clean vocals. Fans of bands such as Camel, Porcupine Tree, Anekdoten etc will find a lot to please them. In fact, after playing Ending Credits, Mikael admits that he borrowed some ideas for the song from Camel.

After a good long break of half an hour or so, Opeth returned to play the second set of the evening, centering on their heavier, darker material. It began with Master's Aprentices from the Deliverance album, which I'm not sure I've heard them play live before. From there, they moved into the tremendous The Drapery Falls certainly one of their best tunes IMHO, though this performance of the tune didnt quite seem up to the level of their other London gig, earlier this year.

You guys having a good time? It's a bit different to the first set joked Mikael, before announcing 'This is one of the top 3 Opeth songs we've recorded'. In fact it was the title track of the Deliverance album and the crowd loved it. Then after a further mumbled introduction we got the awesome The Leper Affinity (from Blackwater Park) and a set closer of A Fair Judgement. Having sometimes struggled to enjoy these tunes on CD, I continue to be amazed how much better they sound live and how easily Mikael switches between his thoroughly evil sounding growling and his beautiful clean vocals.

With the filming of the DVD complete, the band returned for the obligatory encore and dipped further back into their own catalogue to play Demon of the Fall. Before that, Mikael had invited the audience to perform first a death metal growl and then a scream - neither of which seemed to meet his exacting standards - but it was fun anyway. I think that licencing/record company issues mean that only material from the bands Music For Nations albums will be featured on the DVD, but one can't have an Opeth gig without Demon of the Fall, can one?

The crowd continued to be enthusiastic and fairly noisy throughout the show, which unfortunately meant that some of the calmer moments were spoilt by the incomprehensible screaming of certain drunken individuals, but the band as a whole seemed to be very pleased with the crowd reaction. It appears that they really like playing London. Like many fans, I look forward to the DVD release.

Set 1: Windowpane / In my Time of Need / Death Whispered a Lullaby / Closure / Hope Leaves / To Rid the Disease / Ending Credits / Harvest / Weakness

Set 2: Master's Aprentices / The Drapery Falls / Deliverance / The Leper Affinity / A Fair Judgement

Encore: Demon of The Fall

Review by Charlie Farrell

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