Opeth 20th Anniversary Conert at the Wiltern - Evolution XX


11. Apr. 2010, 22:33

Fri 9 Apr – Opeth 20th Anniversary

With the deluge of metal bands in today's scene, it's easy to get caught up in the hype. Every week brings a new band that promises to be the next big thing - "heavier", "faster", "more brutal" than anything that came before. I'm pretty sure though that 99% of those bands just fall by the wayside. It is the rare metal band that can celebrate their undisputed legacy after 10, 15, 20 or more years. Metallica immediately comes to mind, say what you will about their later efforts. Death is another band who will be listened to many years down the line. The resurgence of Cynic, so many years after their debut, shows that instrumental proficiency and musicality endure the test of time.

This brings me to Opeth. Blending elements of death metal and progressive rock with equal aplomb, these Swedish masters can crush your skull in with ferocious riffery or captivate you with beautiful, elaborate fingerpicked passages. Equally noteworthy is frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt's voice, ranging from horrid roars out of the depths of hell to mournful, haunting clean vocals, often within the same song. Their ability to create deeply atmospheric passages coupled with their formidable and diverse instrumental skills is impressive, but the songwriting that keeps everything coherent and ties it all together is probably their most valuable element, and one that sets them apart from the rest.

While undoubtedly more famous for their later efforts (Blackwater Park is the #1 rated album of 2001 on Rateyourmusic.com), Opeth have been around since 1990 - and I believe wholeheartedly they will be among the giants of metal music listed above in terms of longevity and legacy. They celebrated their 20th anniversary with a six date mini tour. Luckily, one of the shows was taking place in Los Angeles, at the Wiltern - and I had the fortune to experience it. The show consisted of two sets - first they played the aforementioned Blackwater Park in its entirety, with only short pauses between songs. The second set comprised one song from each of their other 8 albums, in chronological order.

An ominous, lingering keyboard tone signaled the start of The Leper Affinity. This is one of my favorite Opeth songs and I think they pulled it off very well. The one complaint I had about this show was at times Mikael had trouble finding the "sweet spot" with his harsh vocals - in some of the songs he would deliver things in a sort of muted monotone growl as opposed to the more dynamic, slightly shrieking roar that you hear on the records. I attributed this to the fact that it was the last date of the tour and undoubtedly playing two sets each night would take its toll on his voice, however I also listened with earplugs in and out to make sure I wasn't cutting out any frequencies. Also, they might layer the vocals on the recording...In any case, this didn't seem to affect his clean vocals, as those were spot on. Continuing through Bleak the band got to show off their softer side with the beautiful Harvest. They let Per Wiberg's keyboards play a more prominent role in the song, which I think enhanced the arrangements and allowed the vocals and clean guitar fills to stand out a little more. Lighters were up in the air for this one. The band really found their stride with the next track, The Drapery Falls. This is really one of the definitive Opeth tracks - strong melody, great vocal delivery, and a good contrast between the delicate and the brutal. Next up was the plaintive Dirge for November, which was simply beautiful and had the whole audience captivated. After the relentless yet catchy riffing of The Funeral Portrait and the instrumental interlude of Patterns in the Ivy, the band launched into the last song of this set, the majestic title track. The lyrics and vocal delivery in this track are nothing short of awe inspiring, and when the second main heavy riff gets introduced after the lull of the first clean passage...pure genius that put me on edge. All in all, an amazing performance.

After a 10 minute intermission, the band kicked off the second set with a track from Orchid. It might've been the first track but I don't have that album so I wasn't sure. They followed it up with Advent from Morningrise, before announcing April Ethereal from My Arms, Your Hearse. I was pretty ecstatic at this point as I think that's one of their best album openers, and the way it flows into When is amazing as well. However, this was soon overshadowed by the next track they played, The Moor, from what many consider to be Opeth's best album, the epic Still Life. Mikael announced this song as being "a bit difficult to play", but they pulled it off nearly flawlessly. To me, this may be my favorite Opeth track, seeing as how it kicks off a masterpiece of an album so well, but since Still Life is really meant to be listened to in its entirety, as a single work, it's hard to make that distinction. In any case, it was the highlight of the evening for me, as I found myself hoarse and sore in the neck after. They followed up with Hope Leaves (featuring an extended outro solo by Fredrik Åkesson) and Wreath from Damnation and Deliverance respectively (maybe the order was switched), before playing a song that had never been played in the US before this tour - Harlequin Forest from Ghost Reveries. I feel like I overlooked this song before because it was absolutely mesmerizing here, from the driving chord progression and clean vocals at the start to the pounding, odd meter riff at the end. Amazing song. For the finale, it was The Lotus Eater from Watershed, which can't really be described by words - just one of the most experimental and riveting Opeth tracks ever - that jazzy danceable keyboard solo in the middle gets me everytime. The one song I wish they had played was A Fair Judgement, but you can't always get what you want. Probably the best concert I've been to all year, and I wasn't even high!

- Sound mix was good with regards to instrument balance but maybe a bit too loud in general. When I took out my earplugs I was getting a lot of hissing from the cymbals.

- I was standing next to two genuinely nice dudes - one of whom bought me a cup of pineapple juice without me asking or paying. Also got a sweet program and t-shirt to commemorate the tour.

- The Wiltern should be more clear about their camera policy. I could've easily brought mine, the guy behind me was recording the entire show pretty much. But I didn't want to risk bringing it all the way there and then have to check it or toss it somewhere.

- Mikael's stage banter was pretty good as always, just not that much of it. Among the night's highlights: "The name of this band is....Toto." and "I have a secret to tell you guys: I smell like shit! How's that?"


  • DreadfulYgg

    A very nice recollection of the evening. I plan on doing a review myself pretty soon. Strangely enough I found "April Ethereal" not too great live, but I do really like it on the album. I feel like I really need to start wearing earplugs too. My ears are still kind of full two days later.

    12. Apr. 2010, 1:39
  • austinmangel

    Chick: Is that a gay bar? Mikael: Yeah, yeah it is.

    12. Apr. 2010, 10:10
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