–OPETH: The Intersection/Grand Rapids, Mich./Saturday, April 14th, 2012

–OPETH: The Intersection/Grand Rapids, Mich./Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Disclaimer: Mastodon was also co-headlining for this show, but I am not much of a fan and left before they played. So Mastodon fans will have to look elsewhere to read about their concerts.–JK

No one could accuse Mikael Akerfeldt of pandering to the masses. The Opeth guitarist/lead vocalist/songwriter couldn’t care less about musical trends, or the polar opposite side of the same coin, catering to the rigid elitist tastes of hardcore metalheads. Rather, Akerfeldt does exactly what he wants to do, and supporters of his music need to be prepared to accept that fact. His band’s unique brand of progressive death metal, for lack of a more apropos term, has ALWAYS taken the listener on a roller coaster’s journey of musical styles and emotions. From grinding, down-tuned death metal riffs and low guttural growls, to gorgeous, classically-inspired acoustic passages, to mellow and subtly dissonant jazz excursions, Akerfeldt’s complex, epic music has always represented the complete musical smorgasbord presented on a heavy metal buffet table.

So when Akerfeldt announced last year that he was done with playing death metal, and then released the controversial and relatively mellow ‘70s prog-rock throwback of an album in Heritage, many Opeth fans were left scratching their heads. Or worse — they were out for Akerfeldt’s head. “How dare they ‘sell out’ like this? What a bunch of blankin posers! Now he’s gone too far!” and similar outcries, ad nauseum. Now, let it be known that I absolutely abhor the stereotypically closed-minded, lemming-like mentality of the heavy metal faithful that is automatically resistant to all change or original ideas in spite of any potential musical merit. Akerfeldt, by all indications, also doesn’t care what the “metalheads” think of his whimsical musical inclinations, and he’s not afraid to throw their negative obstinacy back in their collective face. Therefore, Akerfeldt made it clear that fans who came to see Opeth on this Heritage Hunter North American tour would hear the mellow older tunes with clean vocals and plenty of the newer, 1970s-inspired material. Those who remained open-minded and showed up at The Intersection on Saturday witnessed a mesmerizing and soulful, and occasionally brain-bashing, performance by the talented Swedes.

Since this was a co-headlining show for two bands that had already headlined the larger-capacity Orbit Room, the line outside The Intersection snaked for at least a few blocks down Grandville Ave. By the time my brother Jeff and I finally entered the front lounge area, where an obnoxious local band of some sort was playing, and made our way out the side exit and then back inside the building to the main concert hall, openers Ghost had already almost finished their set. It certainly wasn’t easy to see what was going on behind the backs and tall heads of hundreds of concert-goers. But after standing on tiptoes and wrenching my neck a bit, it became clear that Ghost looked like a bunch of gimmicky weirdoes. First off, they had four or five musicians standing onstage wearing long, hooded cloaks that completely obscured their faces. In the red ambient lighting, they closely resembled the Dink Dinks from Spaceballs. The lone exception was the lead singer, clad in a white gown and some sort of bizarre skull mask or makeup, and wearing a funny bishop-like hat kinda like the Druish Priest in Spaceballs. Yes, this must have been the Spaceballs House Band. Musically, however, Ghost actually sounded quite good, like a clever amalgamation of mid-tempo traditional horror metal (ala King Diamond, perhaps), and 1980s pop-rock, especially in the danceable drumbeats, and the clear and commercially-appealing mid-range vocals. The two songs we heard also featured very catchy choruses and tasty guitar harmonies, and I have to say these Swedes’ campy shtick/unique musical package is quite entertaining. Now I’d like to undertake a “Ghost” investigation of my own, that’s for sure.

After Ghost’s set, we weaved our way through the constantly streaming horde of metalheads 25-30 feet closer to the stage, about even with the sound booth. This would give us a much clearer view of the performers, even given the millions of rows of fans still standing in front of us (bloody tall people!). Opeth’s stage setup featured Martin Axenrot’s drums placed stage right and new keyboardist Joakim Svalberg’s organ in the back at stage left. Most impressive was the row of several round colored lights at the back of the stage that would, in conjunction with the venue’s own lighting rig, establish haunting mood lighting throughout the set. Finally, the much-revered quintet of Swedish longhairs quietly took the stage to a warm round of cheers and applause from the jam-packed Intersection crowd. Mr. Akerfeldt and co. wasted little time launching into the start-stop, Ritchie Blackmore-esque riff of an opener, “The Devil’s Orchard,” the first single off the Heritage album. And it was on.

Fans who came specifically to see Opeth knew what they could expect from this show — lots of new stuff. That’s no fewer than five tracks off Heritage, which went down pretty well with the friendly and appreciative audience. Alternately intense and soothing, these songs weaved through complex and serpentine riffs, lots of meter changes, funky rhythms and jazz-based chord progressions, dazzling Hammond organ flourishes, melodic guitar arpeggios, and the soaring clean-only vocals of Akerfeldt. Akerfeldt, always the epitome of Joe Cool on stage, sported a black KISS first-album cover shirt, and his guitar cohort Fredrik Akesson wore a vintage Ozzy t-shirt that highlighted the retro feel of the performance. Bassist extraordinaire Martin Mendez held up stage right in front of Axenrot in the technically-proficient but rock-solid rhythm section. Opeth’s performances, although no frills and short on theatrics, more than make up for it with Akerfeldt’s dry, deadpan sense of humor. After the first song, he took one look at the fancy-dancy amplifier standing behind him and asked, “Are there any tech heads out there? I have no blanking clue what this thing does.” Later, he quipped, “I believe we’ve played here in Grand Rapids before, but I don’t remember anything about it; I just memorized the name.” The Akerfeldt comedy hits just kept coming: “You’re stuck here. We’re force feeding you this music.” And, “This song features down-tuned guitars, a common heavy metal trick.” Akerfeldt’s unique sense of humor works as a perfect foil for the epic grandiosity of Opeth’s music, and it helps to set Opeth’s shows apart from those of other bands.

As for older tunes, Opeth hypnotized us with the somber arpeggiated strains of the gorgeous “Windowpane” off Damnation, while the harmonized guitars in “Burden,” from 2008’s Watershed album, reminded us how potent of a live force Opeth is. Oh yeah, the reports of the demise of Opeth’s heavier, death metal-oriented material have been greatly exaggerated. The band closed the show with the growling crushers, “Demon of the Fall,” and “The Grand Conjuration,” much to the excitement of the surprised Opeth faithful.

It makes one wonder what Akerfeldt will come up with next. Have fun trying to predict it, but enjoy it.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Approximate Setlist: 1.) The Devil’s Orchard 2.) I Feel the Dark 3.) Slither 4.) Windowpane 5.) Burden 6.) The Lines in My Hand 7.) Folklore 8.) Demon of the Fall 9.) The Grand Conjuration


~ by jonnyboyrocker on April 26, 2012.

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