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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.
Windowpane / In my Time of Need / Death Whispered a Lullaby /
Closure / Hope Leaves / To Rid the Disease / Ending Credits / Harvest / Weakness
Master's Aprentices / The Drapery Falls / Deliverance / The Leper
Affinity / A Fair Judgement
Encore: Demon of The Fall
Review by Charlie Farrell