A few years ago, I recall going and seeing Opeth and wondering to myself why they had lost their way. This was shortly after the release of ‘Pale Communion’ and as a fan who yearned for a resurgence of what is normally coined the bands ‘golden era’ I just couldn’t get into the show. Fast forward two years and I honestly couldn’t speak more highly of a show from a band that 28 years into their career still have what it takes.
Opening the show was the national support Caligula’s Horse (who also supported Opeth during the last tour in the Brisbane leg), and this is wholeheartedly a marriage made in heaven. The soothing sounds of the Brisbane quintet’s take on progressive metal is something I’ve written at length about before but it just felt so right for the show tonight. While the band seemed a bit more reserved on stage than normal, I’m going to attribute that to jet lag having crossed over from New Zealand the day before. Their set was everything that you would expect from a band like Caligula’s Horse, with the only real disappointing thing being that they only got to perform four songs. Four songs is never enough and just as the band were getting involved the band had to wrap it all up.
Returning to Australian shores for the first time since that ‘Pale Communion’ tour, the crowd reaction to Opeth’s initial walkout was massive. Opening with the title track off their latest album was the way that the band whet the crowds appetite for the 90 minutes that was to follow and I couldn’t fault the band for one moment during their set. Musically the biggest thing that stood out to me was not the guitars, keys, bass or vocals (which were all equally impressive, and just improved as the night went on), but was the thundering sound from the drumkit commandeered by Martin Axenrot. I’ve seen countless shows at The Tivoli and don’t feel like I have heard drums so crisp in their before, and that platform really raised the platform that the rest of the band was coming from. It made the guitars sound cleaner, the vocals sound stronger and highlighted all of the wonderful work the rest of the band was doing on stage.
Visually, the band was reserved on stage (as you would expect them to be) with slight position changes around the stage when particular sections permitted. But let’s be honest, you don’t go to an Opeth show to see the band bouncing off the walls, and the things the band were doing were done perfectly so they didn’t need to move around to improve their performance.
You know, I feel sorry for Opeth, I really do. Most of the crowd would have had the mentality that I had during that last tour about wanting ‘to hear more old shit’ and this was exhibited by the hecklers yelling out songs for the band to play. For the most part wasn’t needed as the tail end of the set hit a good succession of classics that would have satiated 99% of the fans that were present in the room, but I guess this is just what happens to bands when they are so far into their career that the fans only want to see them play certain songs. In this instance I think that the band, and in particular Mikael Akerfeldt handled the crowds jeering perfectly, and it was his humor, wit and eloquence during the intervals that made each break feel like part of a stand up comedy routine and more importantly part of the set.
After running through a 90 minute set, closing off with “Deliverance” was always going to end the night on a good note, and even though some of my favourite tracks weren’t on the setlist like “The Lotus Eater”, I couldn’t have picked a better setlist to blend crowd favourites with their 28 year old back catalog.
Make no doubts about it, Opeth still has what it takes. And while I know a lot of people feel like the band has lost its way, their live performance in Brisbane definitely proved that the band is heading full speed towards the future. For those that have tickets to their historic show at the Sydney Opera House, I envy you because if their performance there is at the same level it was in Brisbane, then minds are going to be blown.