Opeth
Thursday 25th September, 2003
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, UK

By Charlie Farrell


DVD Filming

Well this was the 5th time that Opeth have played London in the last 2 years. For a band who didn't used to play live very often, they've certainly been very busy touring with their last 3 albums. 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 and with folks wearing not just the T-shirts you might have expected to see, but ones featuring Dream Theater, Hammerfall, Porcupine Tree and even Manowar.

With the band signed to UK label, Music For Nations, London was chosen as the location to film the band's first DVD, rather than their native Sweden. The groundfloor section of the Empire was pretty full, with only guests allowed upstairs, so there were probably around 1100-1200 present in the venue. That, plus the bigger stage probably justified the use of this venue rather than the Mean Fiddler, where many DVDs have been recorded in the last couple of years.

There were 4 main cameras in the stalls, circle and onstage, plus a couple of smaller handhelds units amongst the audience. Martin Lopez's drums were sited back right of the stage, with a set of keyboards, back left, in front of a big backdrop featuring their logo. The other members of the band took up their usual positions at the front of the stage, Peter Lindgren stage left, Martin Mendez stage right and vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt in the center. The whole stage was bathed in rather subdued colours, of which purple, blue and green dominated. Given my own poor attempts at photography under similiar conditions, I do hope that there was sufficient light to produce a clear image for the DVD.

The band were on stage later than advertised, finally appearing around 8:15PM. As the intro music faded, they opened with 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, Mikael Åkerfeldt 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 show was split into two sets, the first of which concentrated on the band’s 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 he wasn't metronomically headbanging his way through each of the tunes as he has done during the previous gigs I've seen. 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 latter part of the song, increasing the pace considerably as the song came to an end. Though the playing of all the musicians was impressive, my eyes were drawn to the phenomenal performance of drummer Martin Lopez who continued to impress throughout the evening. Anyone who has avoided Opeth for fear of the growly (Death) vocals should take some time out to investigate the Damnation album, since this features only clean vocals. Fans of bands such as Camel, Porcupine Tree and Anekdoten 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 half an hour break, the band 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 most progressive and most accessible tunes, though this performance of the tune didn’t 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.

The filming of the DVD at a close, the band returned for the obligatory encore and with the cameras no longer rolling they were able to dip further back into their own catalogue to play a tune from their 1998 release My Arms Your Hearse. After all, 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.

Setlist:

Windowpane
In my Time of Need
Death Whispered a Lullabyv Closure
Hope Leaves
To Rid the Disease
Ending Credits
Harvest
Weakness

Master's Aprentices
The Drapery Falls
Deliverance
The Leper Affinity
A Fair Judgement

Demon of The Fall

 

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