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Sunday 10 November 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Opeth/Vintage Caravan (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

Opeth/The Vintage Caravan, 02 Bristol Academy

A mere 24 hours after they started their headline set at Damnation Festival 2019, Opeth (10) brought a majestic two hours to a close at the 02 Academy in Bristol with the same ferocity they had delivered the night before. The punishing Deliverance, long-time standard set closer remains one of their most loved and complex songs; a devastating blend of death metal power and progressive jazz exploration is almost un-droppable.

Why Opeth are still playing 1500 capacity venues is beyond me but selfishly I’m glad as cavernous arenas may not be kind to their need for clean sound lines. Few in the venue were popping the Opeth cherry; most were devoted fans, committed to the twists and turns of an intriguing musical journey that the Swedes have explored in nearly 30 years as a band, reaching back to those formative days before Orchid. 13 albums have given them sufficient gravitas to use the 02 screens and employ huge platforms which elevated keyboard player Joakim Svalberg, drummer Martin Axe Axenrot and bassist Martin Mendez high above the audience. Mood enhancing lighting added atmosphere throughout; the cold blue spotlights cutting an icy path for opening songs Svekets Prins and old favourite The Leper Affinity, the oldest song in the set list from 2001’s Blackwater Park; gentle warmth for Hope Leaves and a stunningly beautiful Nepenthe, drawn from the much-maligned Heritage album and the most delicate piece of the night.

And then we had Mikael Akerfeldt. Dressed to impress in Fedora, crisp white shirt and velour jacket, matched with jeans and white Adidas trainers. The ringleader, joker, frontman and all-round nice guy, who possesses a steely determination to direct the good ship Opeth in the direction he wants. Deflecting the hecklers with ease; “Have my babies” screamed one female fan. “Have you brought them?” he quips without hesitation. Later in the evening he adopts a Bercow style “order, order”, and puts a joker back in his place when challenged about hat wear. “I wore a baseball cap with the VoiVod logo on years ago” he replies, “so you are fucking wrong!” Akerfeldt is no slouch on the guitar either, trading lead breaks with Fredrik Akesson stage right for fun, although Akesson does get the rip roaring lead break on Svekets Prins as well as the dynamic solo on Moon Above, Sun Below, one of three tracks to survive from their 02 performance almost exactly two years before. Akesson deals with some pedal issues confidently, fending off the inevitable “are you ready yet?” enquiries from his fellow axe partner. Akerfeldt has the confidence to sing the songs from In Cauda Venenum in Swedish; Svekets Prins, Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör and Allting Tar Slut sound amazing, Akesson and Svalberg adding perfect harmonies with Akesson sharing vocal duties on the latter track.

It’s a vintage performance combined with a fresh, modern approach. The Lotus Eater is as creepy as ever yet remains a fan favourite. My only disappointment of the evening is the change in the list of Sorceress for The Moor. But such is life and I won’t complain about an Opeth set list anytime soon.

Earlier in the evening The Vintage Caravan (9) had proved to be a wise choice of support. The Icelandic trio were also at Damnation, playing an hour long set full of joy, riffs, humour and oh yes, riffs. Pushed to the front of the stage in Bristol, nothing phased them. Their brand of classic psychedelic hard rock pushing the right buttons. Bassist Alexander Örn Númason quipping before On The Run that “this song features a bass solo, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. During Expand Your Mind vocalist and guitarist Öskar Logi Ágüstsson demonstrated exactly how to handle a broken string, a manic leap into the photography pit, racing to the other side of the stage to grab a spare guitar; drummer Stefán Ari Stefánsson and Númason holding a steady beat until Ágüstsson returned and the band picked it back up. Over 13 years in the business, The Vintage Caravan are seasoned professionals, even if they forgot completely that they had played the same City a mere 12 months before. Although the 02 was once again uncomfortably overcrowded, the audience were for the most part exemplary; no mean feat in such challenging times. As I write Opeth have just been announced for ArcTangent in Bristol in 2020. I’ll see you there.

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