On March 1st, 2006, I heard the baying of the hounds. Rather, I heard "The Baying of the Hounds" and about nine other fantastic songs. At long-last, Stockholm, Sweden's legendary Opeth came to my secluded hometown and rocked out the local concert venue, the Orbit Room. Accompanied by Gothenburg gods Dark Tranquility, and America's rough-and-tumble Devildriver (taking their first date on the tour, and replacing the Devin Townshend band, whom I would have rather seen), the three bands proceeded to play one of the most powerful shows I've ever been fortunate enough to attend. Why is this you ask? I would reply that the show was a textbook case of the simple, realistic, and joyous reality that a true concert brings. The show was (in more ways than one) badly flawed, but in the end it still was all about good music and having fun. The result? A concert that never felt forced or hollow in its perfection, but rather maintained divine music filtered into all our ears with a sense of humanity to it.
Take, for example, the events before the concert began. The tickets were marked with a 6:30 kick-off, and the website for the concert hall promised a 6:00 doors. Little did I know that all of these promises were lies, and that I would spend an hour and a half out in the cold, followed by more waiting in the actual building itself. Dark Tranquility opened and didn't even enter the stage until 8:45 PM.
My thawing fingers and grumpy demeanor soon washed away in a sea of inspiring melodic metal. Dark Tranquility ambled out, and did their darndest to warm up a crowd almost wholly ignorant of their existence. It was a little depressing seeing these living legends (one of the original "Gothenburg" metal bands, whose melodic leads and symphonic effects are being stolen by American metalcore bands almost daily) reduced to polite golf-claps and vacant stares. One or two morons even had the balls to yell "You suck! We want Devildriver!." Despite these set-backs, by set's end, Dark Tranquility had silenced all the naysayers. Playing a blistering half-hour set, the band crammed so many great songs into so little time it felt like they had played all night. Bassist Michael Niklasson wasted no time in warming up the crowd; he waved his hand in an appeal for cheers, and Mikael Stann's jovial stage-banter lightened the tension considerably. The highlight of the set though were the songs themselves; twin guitarists Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson led a rip-roaring charge through an entire back catalog of melodic headbangers, off of everything from Gallery to Character. Songs like "Punish My Heaven," "Lost to Apathy," and "Lethe" exploded with frenetic energy, igniting the crowd into brief mosh pits. All-in-all, it was great set, barely flawed in any way. My one complaint was that the keyboards were a bit muffled, and that the band started off a tad sluggish at first, perhaps due to the tepid response. Regardless, I'd wager that Dark Tranquility would be welcome in my town again anytime soon.
I'm not sure if the same could be said for domestic act Devildriver. I'll try to be objective on this one, as for the record, I dislike Devildriver. Ignoring my own personal tastes, I'm not sure whether the crowd liked them or loathed them. On the one hand, even a non-fan like myself has to admit that the band were fresh, playing their first stop on the tour. To top it off, the band's mosh-worthy deathcore was the most energetic and speedy music of the entire evening, and it definitely led to some great crowd action. On the other side of the coin, Devildriver earned much heckling from sections of the crowd, who drowned out stage chatting with calls of "Devildriver Sucks" and/or "OPETH" chants. To make matters worse, the band took forever to step up, their members entangled in lengthy, vocal, and heated arguments with the Orbit Room staff. The end-cap was an awkward moment in which the band announced one of their favorite songs would be filmed for an upcoming DVD; the mic cut out mid-song, and the circle pit the band had requested was so laughable that I sincerely doubt any DVD footage of it will ever see the light of day. To be fair, I don't mean to harp on Devildriver so much, as they are a lot better than other bands they tend to be unfairly lumped with, and the circumstances dampening their set tonight are usually beyond their control.
All was forgotten once Opeth finally took the stage circa 11:00. I had been intrigued to see how a band somewhat shunned at times for their intricate, selfish songs would pull off an entire concert set. My idiotic doubts were for naught, and to wit, Opeth kicked ass. Frontman Mikael Akerfeld led a hour long flight of fancy through various Opeth classics, and did it all with a remarkably entertaining yet dry sense of humor I would never have predicted. A massive backdrop of the art from new album Ghost Reveries was unfurled as the band took to the podium in darkness, and they opened with all of "Ghosts of Perdition." Following this, oldies like "White Cluster," "The Amen Corner," and even "Under a Weeping Moon" manifest their well-aged forms. My personal favorite was the crunchy "Baying of the Hounds," a song that sounds even stronger live than it does on the album (and for all of you have it, you know it's a doozy!). Perhaps the most pleasing moment of the night was the end; Opeth delivered a set of haymakers in "The Grand Conjuration" and "The Drapery Falls." As I left well into the early morning of Thursday for my long-trip home, I couldn't help but grin; I had just seen magic onstage. Now if only I had been able to make their special Chicago show, with a one-off set of tunes in chronological order! Oh well.... All-in-all, I loved this bloody concert. It had heated participation from a lively crowd, long, powerful sets, and bundles of great music. It was one for the ages folks. Four stars!