Concert Review- Opeth- Alcatraz, Milan, Italy- Nov.24, 2011
Posted by RiffRaff
For years upon years I’ve waited for my opportunity to experience a live Opeth concert. Whenever they would go out and tour, where ever I happened to be is the place they were not. So, when I found out that they would be performing at the now famous Alcatraz Night Club in Milan, Italy, which is a stones throw away from my humble abode, I dove at the opportunity and grabbed tickets as fast as I could. Content, you could say so. And then to sweeten the deal another band I hold in very high regards, Pain of Salvation, announced that they would be taking the support slot for the show. Needless to say, I went from content to elated. Not since when I got my hands on my first Iron Maiden concert tickets did I wait in such anticipation for a concert. Finally after months of being suspended in a bated breath November 24th rolled around and there I was, beer in hand, watching Daniel Gildenlöw of P.o.S. demonstrate his unearthly voice as him and the rest of the band poured out every ounce of their souls on the stage putting on a wonderful and high energy show.
Which brings me to my only complaint of the evening. P.o.S. did not get enough stage time, which was a bit disheartening given that it was long time members Johan Hallgren(guitar) and Fredrik Hermansson’s(keyboards) final tour with the band before they head out and focus their energy on their personal live and family. If anything, within their little over a half hour set consisting mainly of songs off the Road Salt sequence of albums(6 out of 8 ) both of the departing members put their all into their performance and went out on a note higher than any note that Daniel Gildenlöw could sing(and that’s pretty high which he proved that he could execute no problem when they played “Diffidentia”). Next time P.o.S. comes to Milan, which they promised to do as headliners in 2012, you can be sure I will be first in line to see them proper.
After the P.o.S. set I ran and grabbed myself a super-cool Opeth tour shirt and after a few minutes after I returned to my spot with my wife the lights dimmed down and the chants for Opeth rose, the opening music started up(in case you are wondering, their entrance music is “Through Pain to Heaven” by Popol Vuh), and the band of the evening took the stage kicking off the rest of the evening with their “hit” single off the new album “The Devil’s Orchard”. Within the array of gyrating and pulsating stage lighting that filled the concert hall, for a brief moment, all went dark with the exception one stage light pointed at Mikael Åkerfeldt and in that quick wink he introduced himself with an ear to ear grin and a hand brandishing the international sign for Metal before blasting into the Nietzschean “God is dead” chorus. Mood for the evening, perfectly set.
They continued on with the set with “I Feel the Dark” off of Heritage and then into “Face of Melinda” off of Still Life. With that song I started to notice just how proficient Opeth are at translating their songs to a live setting. At the time of them playing the song, I was a bit too entranced in the song to really notice, but when they performed the following song, “Porcelain Heart” it dawned upon me what really made them stand out from the countless other concerts I’ve been to in my life. After the first chorus, drummer Martin Axenrot segued into his drum solo spot and went to boggle my mind with one of the best drum solos I’ve witnessed. Normally when a drummer does his solo it’s about difficult rhythms, speed, and technicality(especially at metal concerts). While he did his spot he veered away from the conventional drum solo and went about showing off his technical side much different from any other drum solo. This solo was about control, for every second he was behind his kit emanating with flashing lights he delved into jazzy rhythms controlling every strike to every piece of his kit with grace. He hit hard when he needed to, but not once put full force into the strike. During the solo he arrived at a section that called for him to fluctuate between soft hits and strong ones where he performed the difficult rhythms with such control and ease that what is usually looked upon as the “show-off” moment of the show became a piece of fine art. That approach to perfect control and respect of the music was transcended by the rest of the band as they followed course and turned songs that I’ve heard a million times into new, “one time only” experiences that can only be accomplished in a live setting.
This point was driven home when they followed-up with “Nepenthe”, and after seeing them perform it live, my appreciation for that particular track went through the roof. For the live version, unlike what many bands do when there are very quiet moments in a song, they did not opt to exclude the near-silence moments of the song, and their choice to do so worked in a great way as the entire sold-out crowd was entranced for every moment of the song.
After a quick sing-a-long of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” as they got their acoustic equipment in check Opeth continued with the harsh vocal-less set list and delved into a few tracks that, according to Mikael, they had not performed live before this tour. First up was “The Throat of Winter”, a rarity that they had recorded for the video game God of War, and included a cool little “duel” between Mikael and Fredrik Åkesson. Following that was “Credence” off of My Arms… and closing off the acoustic trio was “Closure” off Damnation.
To kick the mood into something less mellow Mikael went on to talk about some of his favorite music and got a ruse out of the crowd as he went on to say that he knew more about the Italian progressive rock scene better than anyone in attendance the evening(and he’s probably not joking, lol). He also talked about how big of a fan of Ronnie James Dio he is and Mr. Dio being a god of metal(in Italian dio translates to god). For those who didn’t get the hint of what was coming up next he introduced the song he wrote in memory of Ronnie James, “Slither”. After that rocking little ditty got the audience pumped full of energy again attention was turned to one Opeth‘s heaviest albums, Damnation. After they impeccably built a perfect haunting atmosphere with the first movement of the “A Fair Judgement” they closed it off wonderfully executing the second movement putting colossal amounts of passion and grace into it with Fredrik absolutely ripping the solo to shreds. By the time they finished the crushing third movement there was not one person in the house that could deny the magnitude of the five Swedes. “A Fair Judgement” was certainly a high point among an evening of high points and they should seriously consider playing it at almost all of their shows.
Closing off their set they went and revisited Watershed bringing out another surprise for the evening and went off on a high note with “Hex Omega”. Like the rest of the show, it was performed flawlessly as it gracefully ebbed and weaved through musical landscapes and left the spectators in awe. But, if you’ve been to any concert, you know to hang around for a couple of minutes after the band says good-bye for the evening. Coming back out for their encore Mikael gave shout outs to the rest of the band (as he seemed to be having fun picking on bassist Martin Mendez the whole evening and the rest were a bit overlooked). New guy Joakim Svalberg got to give a “demonstration” of the different sounds and styles him and his keyboards were able to do and after the fun little clinic Opeth closed off the evening with “Folklore” putting a perfect end to an extraordinary concert.
Seeing Opeth perform was everything I imagined and more, and the choice of songs for the set list was something special and they really made me feel I was witnessing something extraordinary. Next time they come around my area I will have no qualms about rushing to get my hands on tickets the second they go on sale. They are, without a doubt, one of the best live bands in existence.