Monday 19 October 2015

Live Review: Opeth @ Theatre Royal, London 18/10/2015

By: Richard Maw

‘Ghost Reveries’, on balance, is my favourite Opeth record- mainly by virtue of being the first one I heard, but because  it is also one I find myself returning to again and again (as well as ‘Blackwater Park’ and ‘Deliverance’). It was a no-brainer that I would attend this show; I booked the requisite time off work, sorted accommodation and train tickets and set off with my wife to London. In the final week before the show it was announced that the venue had been changed to the Theatre Royal. Having never been there it did not put me off. I had seen Opeth at the Royal Albert Hall show in 2010 when they played ‘Blackwater Park in its entirety and this show promised to be just as good.

Having met up with Mr Sam Taylor, my partner in crime in Peacemaker, along with his own female partner in crime Rene, we had a swift drink, failed to offload a ticket sadly un-taken due to traffic delays and headed into the venue. We were seated in the balcony, a long way up, but only two rows back. My view was just fine- slightly marred by the usual nerds filming everything on I-Phones in front of us, but nonetheless I settled in for a night of vivid musical atmosphere. I had hoped that the gig was going to be good due to the first half set list. I was not disappointed.

From the opener of ‘Ghost of Perdition’ to the first half closer of ‘Isolation Years’, I was enthralled. That most of the line-up from the ‘Ghost Reveries’ era is now gone and replaced did not detract from the performance at all as the band put on a  stunning show of cohesive musicianship. Naturally, drummer Axe played flawlessly, with taste and flair in spades. His playing is deft and features double kick work accompanying busy hands and lots of cymbal use- in short, he plays his whole kit and makes use of all of it very well, locking in nicely with Martin Mendez to underpin the more mercurial sounds produced by the two axemen and keyboard player.

To pull off a record as complex as “Ghost Reveries” in a live setting is no mean feat- it features a lot of dynamic shifts, a lot of time changes and interlinking sections. It was done flawlessly and without glitches or, more importantly, compromises to the material. ‘The Grand Conjuration’ drew perhaps the loudest cheers, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed every track equally. You just cannot argue with the quality of such material as ‘Reverie/Harlequin Forest or ‘Beneath The Mire’. From a production standpoint, the whole thing looked good too; candelabras stood eerily around the stage with several large screens at the back providing visual accompaniment to the melancholic music emanating from the speakers.

The band took a break at the conclusion of the album and then returned to play a kind of selected greatest hits- taking in as it did tracks from the aforementioned records and also more recent works of ‘Pale Communion’ and ‘Heritage’. A lot of flack has been thrown the way of Opeth for the last two albums. I like them both and for me they sit along side the earlier heavier material without any issues. Given a choice, I pick the much heavier model, but there is value and quality in both eras and, crucially, when you hear any track live it all still sounds like... Opeth.

If there is one gripe to be made about the whole event, it has nothing to do with the music, the venue, the production, the ticket prices, the band or anything else which normally people grumble about. Sadly, it relates to the “fans” who attend these things and insist on trying to prove that they are in fact a comedian and not some geek who only left their bedroom for the first time this year to attend the show. Shouting out for ‘Freebird’ between songs once is vaguely amusing. Continually shouting a load of shit in between every pause is an insult to everyone who paid their money to hear and see a band, I don’t want to listen to some cunt try to engage the front man of said band, in and I fucking hate this word: “banter”. There are two plus sides in this, though: 1. Akerfeldt dealt with it all in good humour and effectively (having seen Opeth several times, he does engage with people and almost invites a bit of comedic interaction) and 2. A metal gig is still one of the safest nights out there is. If this had been at a show not attended by the alternative/cerebral misfit metal crowd, audience responses would probably have been more than verbal. It made me wish this had happened at a Stranglers gig anytime between 1977 and now. Not that I am condoning violence in any event, but...

Enough of the negatives, though. This was a storming gig of monolithic musical proportions. Suffice it to say, this was probably the most enjoyable gig I have seen Opeth play and I have seen a few. Fantastic stuff and true musicianship. Classy and uncategorisable, Opeth are one of the most idiosyncratic bands in metal. Long may they continue.

The full Opeth Setlist was:

‘Ghost Reveries’ (part one of the evening)

Ghost of Perdition
The Baying of the Hounds
Beneath the Mire
Atonement (extended)
Reverie/Harlequin Forest
Hours of Wealth
The Grand Conjuration
Isolation Years

Part two of the evening:

Eternal Rains Will Come
Cusp of Eternity
The Leper Affinity
To Rid the Disease
Jam – snippets of Bleak, Face of Melinda, The Moor and other songs
I Feel the Dark
Voice of Treason
Master’s Apprentices
The Lotus Eater