Monday, March 20, 2006

St. Patrick's Day in Galway

Here are a few more pics of Galway on parade day.

Goldring Arts Journalism trip to Ireland

My class went to Dublin and Galway over spring break to study theater. I'll be drawing up some reviews and commentary about the trip as soon as I can. In the meantime, here are some pics to tide you over.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Opeth at Town Hall

Opeth at Town Hall, NYC, Feb. 23

Faces familiar, spawning long locks with eyes exuding the remains of teen angst, the audience at Town Hall was obscured by their surroundings, offset by the spinning ballerinas onstage. This crowd--usually in a dark club, a dank bar, and more than likely without the presence of women in leotards--was currently beer logged in a sold out, seated concert hall. They waited, perspiring under black cloth etched with names in gothic fonts: Katatonia, Suffocation and the mighty Opeth, creators of the present tune “Deliverance” and inspiration for the Ballet Deviare’s support performance.

The ballerinas’ pirouettes in synch with the recording of Opeth’s distorted chords: a sure sign that they’ve been noticed outside of the cultish metal world. But even more precious is the fact that 15 years have passed since the band was merely a member of the metal masses, now its leader and pioneer of the field. Opeth’s popularity has risen far beyond the borders of their Scandinavian countryside (cathedrals, soccer teams) and into the affluent cityscape of Manhattan (skyscrapers, dance companies). Now is Opeth’s time to face the visages of their fans and prove their rise from “one of” to “The One.”

The show was billed as a retrospective and required Opeth to start at the beginning with 1995’s Orchid and progress to their 2005 release Ghost Reveries. They fulfilled this promise by plunging into “Under the Weeping Moon,” an unrefined and charming tune that sounded untouched from the debut days. Singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt provided the only separation from the original version with a bellowing growl that has refined and become more omnipresent with passing of time. The halfway point contains what seems to be a jam section that detailed the depths from which the band now expertly and explicitly hashes out every beat, guitar squeal and bass line.

With the building blocks laid down, Opeth moved forward to the next album, Morningrise and played a tune never before heard live: “Night and the Silent Water.” During the tune’s peak when Akerfeldt barks off-beats against a driving guitar line, their future brilliance shined bright with prophecy. The tone mirrored their surroundings at the time of creation as they composed the tunes primarily in their home-city of Stockholm, a place of medieval stone steeples and encompassing harbors. The song embodied the glory and mystique of a mercantile village arisen during the Dark Ages with divisions of devilish bellows and minstrel acoustic pickings.

Before Opeth could announce the next on their bill, part of the audience called out requests, which were sharply rebutted by a response from their counterparts of “shut the fuck up!” Surely the second grouping of fans knew that Opeth had their set preplanned; they never let a note slip unwritten, why would they take a chance on a whole song? Akerfeldt announced at the show’s start that the band had relearned tunes for this night, which was the first of three concerts entitled “Chronology MCMXCIV - MMV A live observation by Opeth.” Drummer Per Wiberg had to memorize the old tunes from scratch as the replacement for Martin Lopez who is taking a leave of absence.

This bickering continued throughout the gig, despite the fact that not one request was honored. It did open the door, however, for Akerfeldt to show what fame has done for his personality. While esteem has improved and strengthened the progressive quality of Akerfeldt’s sound it has also taken a toll on his attitude towards the music business. Back in the Orchid days, they didn’t even tour, but now with Roadrunner’s dollar bills tucked in his pocket Akerfeldt’s acting like born-again rock star, interacting with broken English and asking the audience to shout out his band name. How better to emulate an American stage-aholic than by yelling out obscenities like “cock, pussy, cunt,” which Akerfeldt did before playing a song from the album that he said “broke us big over here.”

By the time Opeth got around to playing a tune from Black Water Park, that big, elusive album, they had transformed into the powerhouse of today. Foregoing their usual choice of “Demon of the Fall” and choosing “Karma” off My Arms Your Hearse. This allowed them the opportunity to play “Demon” as an encore, two and a half hours after they sounded their first note. “White Cluster” from Still Life followed, well groomed with both the fury and the gentle nature that’s come to define Opeth as unparalleled in contrast and musicianship. The Opeth song structure solidified with the writing of Still Life, but the extended, ornamented guitar solos and weaving vocal lines emerged as a contending force only with the next album Black Water Park, something that continues to develop through their modern material.

The remaining selections from Deliverance, Damnation and Ghost Reveries were as tight and well-played as any recent show that catapulted them to Metal Fest and Sounds of the Underground stages over the past few years. They rounded out the show with “Ghost of Perdition” the opening track of their latest CD, with parts equally Emperor and Tool as Porcupine Tree and Darkthrone. The segments blocked off by waves of inspiration, whether medieval minstrel music or ‘90s melodic death metal. Without the light breath instigated by the pulsating human hair and the occasional hot gusts created by the crowd’s impassioned responses to Opeth’s prolific songs you could have been sitting in bed with the record spinning in your stereo.

Ghost Reveries served as the height of their success, and “Ghost of Perdition” the climax of an invigorated two hour and 30 minute set. The song sprung from humble beginnings that transformed Orchid’s murky outline into an innovative structure that reeks of confidence. The progression of their career from amateur black metal fans to world-class creative metal stars has put them on the map as one of the best metal bands on the globe.

From this high point, Opeth reminded their fans of how a band rises to the top. It’s become a commonality for groups to shout out their Web site and announce upcoming tour information, but for Opeth to play their only single “The Grand Conjuration” as the show-stopper placed them squarely back on the ground. No longer untouchable, even the inspired must pay their bills, whether through catching attention by screaming obscenities or putting out a music video and playing the shit out of the song live. They used a second security, “Demon of the Fall” as the encore, which is a common presence at their live shows. These songs sell t-shirts, but it is these other gems that make a career worth reviewing.