Heading into Worcester to see Opeth live, I couldn't help but wonder to myself if the fact that the band has "officially" become a household name in the heavy metal world would have any impact on their performance. In a perfect world, the cream should always rise to the top--- but this is often not the case in the arts. In point of fact, I've all too frequently observed (and sadly so) that when a band breaks through, it isn't long before the infamous "we're rock stars" state of mind sets in and, subsequently, all of the behavioral refinements which accompany it. For a band like Opeth, who sport an impressive armload of critically acclaimed releases on their resume, this was (at least) a theoretical possibility.
It isn't very often when I find myself pleased to be wrong, but I was thrilled to observe Opeth take the stage, and proceed to invalidate my initial skepticism.
The first impression was taking note of how packed--- for a Sunday night--- the Palladium was. Bodies were wall to wall, the beer was flowing out from the bar like white-water river rapids, and it looked like Opeth was going to get a warm but rowdy Worcester welcome. I indulged, and then quickly made my way to the steel stage divider, before it became impossible to get anywhere near the stage. Fireball Ministry opened. Their set was consistent with past Fireball Ministry shows--- good energy, rock heavy, though a bit zealous on the drummer's sound mix, average vocals, but with the ever-righteous leads of the Rev. James to redeem overall. Going into the last number, he wheezed out some nice streams of feedback and, throughout the set, seemed to interact with the crowd in a way that indicated he has begun to cultivate his stage presence. Fireball Ministry finished up, and the crowd was put on hold, so to speak, with some of Death's music, in the meantime. The Seattle-based outfit Nevermore was up next, touring in support of their strong, latest release, "This Godless Endeavor". Warrel Dane did what he could on vocals, but it was easy to tell his voice was fatigued from the relentless touring. Still, he was good about it, and held no reservations about pointing it out himself. It was a shame that the sound on both guitars had a subdued and silty quality through the main PA (except for the solos). However, the rhythm section was spot on for the entire set--- their drummer (Van Williams) in particular, who missed absolutely nothing, kept time like an atomic clock, and adroitly executed his fills. They finished their set, and exited the stage.
When the lights went down for Opeth, the entire building was filled with a deafening roar. This roar was immediately followed by the time-honored practice of (roughly) forty or so people, once standing towards the back of the floor, stampeding front-and-center to the stage, like a many-limbed, humanoid battering ram. Once the initial pandemonium subsided, Michael Akerfedlt took center stage:
"G'd evening, ladies and gentlemen. We're Dokken. We have a wonderful surprise for you tonight. Two hours of.... cock rock."
... and with that, Opeth burst headlong into "The Baying of the Hounds", an excellent opener, mainly because of its leaden, 4/4 shuffle feel. To everyone's fright, however, the vocals could barely be heard. Luckily, the "right" people quickly remedied the situation. A deftly spun rendition of "When" followed, and of course the crowd responded with the expected fervor. Above and beyond the music, it was most notably Michael Akerfeldt's interaction with the crowd that demonstrated he is as down to earth as ever. Time was taken to (humorously) give the crowd "death metal vocal lessons"--- everything from the guttural, to what Michael described as the "Thomas Gabriel Warrior grunt", and finally the King Diamond falsetto wail. In short, everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves.
"Bleak" came in for the third selection--- a personal favorite. Overall, the sound mix (once the vocals were brought up) was superb. Every instrument could be heard to its most desireable level. Even the keyboards were adjusted appropriately (something I was intentionally mindful of looking out for). The next song of Opeth's set was "In My Time of Need", and with this came a (relatively) decent, but certainly wholehearted, vocal participation from the crowd. After this, the band snapped into the second selection (of the evening) from their latest effort, Ghost Reveries--- a song called "The Grand Conjuration", one which will likely be incorporated into many of their future performances, if the live dynamics of the song give any indication of its worth. The song was also accompanied by some great guitar-howl atmospherics, and shifting stagelight. With the fade out of "The Grand Conjuration", came a song from what Michael Akerfeldt referred to as "the red album", and the band then played what was arguably the best live piece they did all evening, "The Face of Melinda". The chemistry, mood, and feel of this song was stellar, perhaps favorably augmented by the keyboards--- more than just "played without any mistakes". Exceptional.
"Deliverance" was next, and with it came an impressive, mass display of syncopated head banging. After the final notes rang out, Michael Akerfeldt once more took the helm--- only this time around, it was a humorous round of "headbanging lessons" for the crowd to participate and chuckle along with. Those Swedes, they're so instructional. Headbanging lessons were followed by "Blackwater Park", another exquisitely played selection, which Michael claimed would be the evening's last song. Of course, many in the audience knew that Opeth always plays an encore, and it is usually the six-minute masterpiece off of My Arms Your Hearse, "Demon of the Fall". Thus, "Demon of the Fall" was the evening's encore.
With the show over, most of the crowd dispersed and--- after a time--- all of the band members came out to meet the stragglers. Yet another indication that shows Opeth still act as they did when they were far less known. Cds, posters, etc., were signed. Kind words were exchanged. Again, not DIRECTLY related to the music, which was incidentally world class, but one of those little things persons like myself are always on the lookout for, and another reason why Opeth find themselves where they are today--- they relationship they maintain with their supporters. Don't miss Opeth live.
Hats off to the boys from Stockholm.