Guest Post: A Live Review of Opeth in NYC

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In this guest post, friend of the site Brandon Vaglio shares his show review of Opeth at Radio City in NYC.

For the second year in a row, I found myself entering the posh and luxurious lobby of Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall. Thankfully, this time I wasn’t here seeing the Rockettes with my family. Instead, I saw a plethora of prog and extreme metal fans crowding into the legendary venue. Tonight, Opeth would be playing.

This was not an ordinary Opeth show. Labelled as “An Evening of Sorcery, Damnation and Deliverance”, the show was to be divided into two sets. While the first was to follow the typical promotional set Opeth is playing on the rest of their US tour, the second was to be focused solely on the Deliverance and Damnation records, both of which had been remixed in the last year.

After braving the unorganized hell engulfing the merch table, I was escorted to my seat in the orchestra, only about six rows back from the left side of the stage. Within a span of a few minutes, the lights went out to welcome the night’s opening band, The Sword. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the Sword’s brand of stoner metal, I was uncertain how they would go over with Opeth’s audience. However, as soon as those first chords rang out, The Sword showed no signs of intimidation. The monstrous guitar riffs consumed the theater, filling each balcony and bathroom while the hazy, southern-rock inspired passages slowly drifted amongst the audience. The rhythm section’s intense playing fit perfectly into the mix, grounding the riffs on a firm, gargantuan beat. With some catchy and soaring vocal melodies added on top, The Sword managed to claim the hearts of the audience by the end of their set, which lasted around forty-minutes.

With the hall almost completely packed, the lights turned off for the second time. Entering the main stage was Joakim Svalberg, Martin Axenrot, and Martin Mendez. Lacking any guitars, Axenrot signalled the beginning of “Sorceress, a groovy keyboard melody playfully layered over Opeth’s tight rhythm section. Laying on this groove for a bit, the audience erupted as two new figures joined the stage, Fredrik Åkesson and Mikael Åkerfeldt. A change in Svalberg’s melody led to another entrance into darkness, this time leaving Åkerfeldt and Åkesson to encapsulate Radio City with a simple, sinister riff. And like that, the band took off.

The first set was a perfect concoction of a greatest hits set with a few selections from the new album thrown in. Not shying away from their heavier past, the end of “Sorceress” led to the entry of the seemingly innocent, yet hauntingly dark, opening chords of “Ghost of Perdition.. The set’s flow seamlessly linked old favorite’s with new tracks. I was left impressed at how well the new material translated live with the rest of their discography. The chorus of “Sorceress” carried throughout the theater with a sense of power comparable to the other material, while “Will O the Wisp perfectly maintained that meticulously crafted atmosphere that “Face of Melindabuilt. The only moment of the set that seemed to lose the focus of the audience was the beginning of “The Wilde Flowers,, which admittedly has some of the weakest verses on the new album. But the thrilling musical interlude that was found in the second half, led by Åkesson’s blistering solo in the spotlight, quickly recaptured the audience. Åkerfeldt’s dry humor was also in top form, whether he was mocking Mendez’s ponytail, talking about abandoning the show to watch Twisted Sister’s farewell, or questioning the audience’s love of 80’s rockers Europe. The first set concluded perfectly with “Hex Omega“‘s doomy riff, allowing for a brief minute interlude before the band retook the stage.

Despite the great performances in the first set, the second set was what truly made the night an unforgettable one. Opening with a familiar sound for any Opeth fan, Window Pane“‘s opening riff set the scene for the beginning of the second hour. While “Windowpanemay have been a predictable move, the next three tracks provided a journey to the corners of Damnation that are not often explored. Particularly, I was stoked to hear “Death Whispered a Lullaby,, with that distant, wonderfully distorted solo hanging behind the main arrangement. Other notable contributions in this portion of the set included a beautiful solo by Svalberg over “In My Time of Need” and Axenrot nailing the percussion in Closure.. The mood was gently crafted and put the audience into a blissful trance…

…Which was promptly obliterated by the opening of “Master’s Apprentices,” the beginning of the Deliverance portion of the set. The shift was drastic, but we quickly adjusted and welcomed the upcoming heaviness that would be thrown at us. However, I personally was not prepared for the next song. With a hint of nervousness in his voice, Åkerfeldt announced that they had been rehearsing a song that had never been played before. Quickly recalling the tracklist of Deliverance, I realized what song would be next as several others screamed “BY THE PAIN I SEE IN OTHERS.”  And like that, Opeth entered what I would feel was the climax of the night. Åkerfeldt’s screams were at his fiercest, despite the massive set that had preceded that moment. The riffs in the end of the song stood out as some of the fiercest played that night. When the song ended, Åkerfeldt provided the band introductions, ending with a humble “We love you” to the audience before Axe signalled the classic, “Deliverance,” that ended the night.

If I was to sum up the show, I would call it a triumph for the band. A testament to their nonstop work and Åkerfeldt’s uncompromising attitude as an artist (even if that has led to some less-than-satisfying songs littered through their discography). If I was to make a complaint about the show, it would be that Åkerfeldt’s guitar seemed a bit buried in the mix towards the beginning of the Deliverance set (Also they didn’t play “To Rid the Disease”). However, any issues were overshadowed by the strength of the individual performances and the perfectly-crafted setlist.

Set One:

  • Sorceress
  • Ghost of Perdition
  • Demon of the Fall
  • The Wilde Flowers
  • Face of Melinda
  • Will O the Wisp
  • The Drapery Falls
  • The Devil’s Orchard
  • Hex Omega

Set Two:

  • Windowpane
  • Death Whispered a Lullaby
  • In My Time of Need
  • Closure
  • Master’s Apprentices
  • By the Pain I See in Others
  • Deliverance

Big thanks to Brandon Vaglio for sharing his experiences with us!

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