Wednesday, January 29, 2003 @ 3:04 PM
"4 Absent Friends Tour" With O
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REVIEW BY: Nick Infusino
Reasons why I love going to underground concerts, as exhibited at the January 27 House of Blues show featuring Opeth and support acts Tapping the Vein and Paradise Lost: TTV lead singer Heather Thompson selling band merchandise after their set, Paradise Lost guitarists Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy watching Opeth next to me while sharing a beer with a few female fans, and Opeth main-man Mikael Åkerfeldt greeting a friend in the audience in mid-set. Throw in the fact that Opeth performed a blistering set of their ultra-cerebral prog-metal and one winds up with a most satisfying concert experience.
I arrived at the House of Blues about 20 minutes before TTV went on, making sure to pick up the mandatory tour shirt, then staking out a good place to watch the show. As the curtain was raised, Tapping the Vein eased into a 30 minute set of heavily electronic Goth rock, sounding like an even balance between the heavier Lacuna Coil (who were dropped from the tour shortly before commencement, much to my dismay) and mainstream act Garbage. I actually got to talk to Heather Thompson for about fifteen minutes following the set, after some pressure from my friend Diana (hey, I’m kind of shy). The band, who hails from Philadelphia, had just come off consecutive tours with King’s X and Electric Hellfire Club, and had been added to the “For Absent Friends” bill after pressuring their label into a slot. A polar opposite to Opeth’s often-brutal brand of death metal, Thompson explained that reaction to the band has been mostly positive, although they still face the ever-present “SLAY-ER” chants inherent to all metal concerts. From here, they plan to pull together enough money to do a six week European tour.
Shortly after the interview, Paradise Lost took the stage, pumping out a good hours worth of British Goth rock. Although not very familiar with them, I had high expectations for such a highly touted act. Unfortunately, they seemed a bit flat and unexciting to me, relying on formulaic electronic bridges in between power chord progressions. Good, but nothing spectacular.
After another 30 minutes of anxious waiting, headliners Opeth walked onto stage in front of a now packed House of Blues crowd. Without much wait, they launched into “The Leper Affinity,” a brutal and effective opener. The crowd, which had been rather tame until this point, launched into a small but ferocious pit as Åkerfeldt and company pounded out the off kilter, double-bass driven verses. After a few minutes of solid death metal growls, Åkerfeldt seamlessly shifted into the cleanly sung and extremely melodic middle of the song, proving his hauntingly beautiful vocal melodies are no studio novelty.
Next, the band reached back to the oldest song of the night, Morningrises’s “Advent.” The 20-plus minute epic showcased Opeth’s older black and classic metal influences. Unfortunately, the one real weakness in their live sound also became apparent. Many of the clean guitar sections were thin and barely audible, detracting from what are some of the best parts of many tracks.
From the past, Opeth shot ahead to “Deliverance,” the title tack off their current album. Played a little faster than in the studio, the band flawlessly maneuvered the odd time signatures and quick changes of the song. The rhythm section of drummer Martin Lopez and bassist Martin Mendez shined throughout, but display even more staggering and diverse chops on the newer material. The concluding guitar solo which leads into the hypnotizing double bass fade was particularly well played and stood as one of the high points in the set.
Next came another cut from Blackwater Park, fan favorite “The Drapery Falls.” Despite the absence of guest vocalist and Opeth producer Steve Wilson, the song’s cleanly sung portions were still mesmerizing. If anything, Åkerfeldt’s vocals are even better live, retaining all the emotion and ferocity one would expect and then adding to it.
“Godhead’s Lament,” off the relatively obscure album Still Life, followed and reinvigorated the pit. Bringing it down a bit, they then inched into one of my personal favorites, “Credence.” As I said before, the acoustic to clean guitar transition left a lot to be desired, but this was more of a technical problem then a performance issue. The song ended with excellent fusion-infused leads by both Åkerfeldt and Peter Lindgren.
“Bleak” and “A Fair Judgment” closed out the initial set, both of which sat as some of the best material of the night. The end transition from clean to growled vocals on “Bleak” were extremely dramatic and well executed, magnified by the fervent shouts of the audience. “Judgment” once again showcased the brilliantly minimal but tasty jazz skills of both guitarists, especially after the second verse; that one has to be one of my favorite solos of the year.
After a very brief break, Opeth took the stage once again and broke into the clear fan favorite, My Arms, Your Hearse’s “Demon of the Fall.” Despite having to switch guitars just before the verse, Åkerfeldt nailed the chilling first lines. He didn’t even rely on the studio octave effect to back up the verse, instead churning one of the most sinister tones I have ever heard purely from his vocal chords. The song was a fitting cap on the set, showcasing the band’s amazingly heavy yet technical death metal riffing as well as their intricate folk-guitar breakdowns.
As I walked out of the House of Blues, I was greeted with a bitingly cold but refreshing gust of winter air. Somehow, it seemed like the most appropriate climate for the undisputed kings of prog-metal to come to Chicago.