An Evening With Opeth: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
Sunday trips to London for gigs are never particularly enjoyable but when Opeth announced that they would be playing a special 25th anniversary show, combined with a performance of 2005’s masterpiece Ghost Reveries all thoughts of discomfort and lack of sleep were put to one side and tickets were quickly purchased. A last minute change of venue moved the gig from the Palladium to the opulence of the Theatre Royal but tickets arrived in good time and we headed to London filled with expectation, not hope. This is Opeth after all; supreme musicians and consummate professionals. My 12th viewing of the Swedish maestros and very few duds in that list. Following Opeth is an enjoyable experience, and has taken me (and son Ant) across the country; Bristol, Birmingham, Prestatyn, Nottingham, Bloodstock, Sonisphere, Download and the Albert Hall to be precise. Not once have they played in Wales but that is the cross you are happy to carry when it comes to this innovative, classical and heavy as lead band.
We arrived in the Capital with a couple of hours to kill and having smirked at the display of Motörhead dildos proudly displayed outside a ‘private’ shop on Oxford Street, proceeded to get a couple of pre-gig ales and a bit of supper before heading to the venue. Unsurprisingly, given the proximity to Covent Garden, the area was packed and the local pubs full of black t-shirts and long haired metallers. According to the tickets, doors opened at 7:00 pm but disappointingly they appeared to have been opened much earlier and as we studied the scrum around the merchandise table it was clear that we had been far too slow to grab a souvenir t-shirt; only XXL available at 6:55 pm. Obviously the band only carry a limited amount of stock on the road so hopefully the on-line store may stock some at a later date. Never mind. It was the music we had travelled for.
Entering the theatre, one was immediately impressed with the splendour of the venue along with the height of the theatre with three circles rising to the gods, flanked on either side by several boxes. We quickly found our seats, guided by the very helpful theatre staff who were clearly taking the invasion of two thousand mainly beery, hairy white males in their stride. Plenty of leg room and a great view of the stage, although the overhang of the lower circle slightly clipped the sight lines for the top of the three screens which had been positioned at the back of the stage.
The stage was ornately decorated with candelabras and the lighting enhanced the atmosphere, one of death and foreboding and totally in keeping with the atmosphere of the album. The screens eased into life, the ghostly mist of the album cover drifting around flickering candles and the house lights dimmed as Opeth took to the stage. What followed was 90 minutes of sheer breath-taking music as the band played Ghost Reveries from start to finish. Opening with Ghost Of Perdition, a blisteringly heavy track laced with some typical classic Opeth harmonies and quieter parts, the band were clearly hitting their stride as they neared the end of this particular run of shows. The sound was astonishingly clear, possibly the best I’ve ever heard at a gig and this really enhanced the delivery, with the interplay of guitars, bass and keyboards all crystal clear. As Ghost... came to an end it was clear that Mikael was in a good mood, willing to take the time to engage with the audience with his dry wit and coping well with the more boisterous elements heckling incredibly well. (More of this later). Into The Baying Of The Hounds, visceral death vocals, crushingly heavy riffs and pure Opeth brutality; possibly the most evil thing ever heard within the grandiose setting, more used to the sound of Willy Wonka than death metal.
And so it continued as the band eased through the track listing; Beneath The Mire played for the first time on UK soil, the eastern promise of the beautiful Atonement, complete with integrated keyboard and guitar solos which fitted perfectly with the mood of this track and then the more recognisable Reverie/Harlequin Forest ramped the volume back up again. Meanwhile the screens displayed various images which fitted perfectly. Unfortunately, it was as the band began the delicate Hours Of Wealth that a few of the more boorish elements of the audience decided that a “quiet bit” was a good time to a)head for the toilet/bar and b)have a little chat at top volume. Honestly, there were some right fuckwits amongst the audience. As distracting as this was, the band maintained their professionalism and delivered it perfectly, with the interplay between Mikael's guitar work and keyboard player Joakim Svalberg on what is essentially a duet stunning. The demonic and pulverising Grand Conjuration increased the temperature again before a further oafish element heckled once more as a beautiful Isolation Years brought part one of the evening to a close.
After a short interval, and the set stripped back to the basics, Opeth returned to the stage and ripped through the now familiar opening duo from Pale Communion, Eternal Rains Will Come and Cusp Of Eternity. The clarity of the sound was helping to really pick up on the intricate musical interplay and allowed you to establish the different lines of each instrument. The guitar work of Mikael and Frederik Akesson particularly impressive. The Leper Affinity, a staple from Blackwater Park followed, the driving bass of Martin Mendez and the power of Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot especially impressive. A calmer middle part of the set followed, with some humorous interaction with the crowd. Of course, even an intelligent band like Opeth attract the stupid and the moronic, and as Mikael referred to Damnation, the oafs in front shouted, nay, bellowed for The Moor (which is from Still Life you tools!). A snippet of Face Of Melinda and Closure led to a perfect To Rid The Disease before a rare outing for I Feel The Dark from the much maligned Heritage album.
On the home strait, and it was all too much for one punter, who managed to fall over a number of other patrons as he staggered down his row, completely trolleyed. This was the cue for an exchange of pleasantries which included a classic “Why don’t you fuck off and die … and then fuck off and die some more you cock weed” from a particularly unimpressed young lady. Said drunken punter was by now on his hands and knees at the end of the row and crawled to the door where the staff quickly removed him. Meanwhile shouts for old school tracks such as Black Rose Immortal and obviously further calls for The Moor continued. One classic put down came after a cry for Slayer (how original). “Fuck off, we want to play our own songs!” Despite all of this diatribe, Opeth then delivered a superb version of Voice Of Treason, which confused the old school brigade as it is from Pale Communion. Moving back to the Deliverance release, a crushing version of Master's Apprentice brought the set to a close before the band returned for an encore.
Although the second set was a little disjointed one of the highlights of seeing Opeth is always how Mikael deals with the crowd and his humour has become legendary. My favourite heckle of the evening came as he introduced the rest of the band, to which one wag shouted “what’s your name?” One of the few times Mikael Akerfeldt had no response. A protracted opportunity for the audience to shout out requests (which encouraged the dullards once more) was rewarded with A Lynyrd Skynyrd style snippet of Bleak, the first verse of A Fair Judgement, a blast of The Moor and a smidgeon of Credence before the band launched into The Lotus Eater from Watershed to complete a triumphant evening which was brilliant in so many ways.
It defies logic to me that you would pay £40 to see a band in a seated venue, and then spend most of your evening back and fore to the toilet and bar, drinking cans of Budweiser (yuk) and no doubt waking up the following day having no recollection of a spectacular evening of music. If it just me that feels like this, then I’m glad. Opeth 10/10 Certain members of the audience 1/10