Saturday, 19 November 2011

13th November 2011: Opeth & Pain of Salvation: O2 Academy, Brixton

And so we come to yet another of the many gigs which Karin and I have booked in a huge ticket grabbing frenzy some months ago. Is it me, or is just about everyone on tour most of the time now? Not that I'm complaining- it's just that eventually you run out of money, or (as in this evening's case), you book so many gigs in a short space of time that by the time the latter ones come around, you can't be bothered to go any more. I remember the good old days when I bought a ticket for one gig a year and then spent the next 10 months waiting for it to come round. It was like Christmas, only with fewer sprouts.

Case in point, I'm actually starting to blog this from my phone, whilst sitting on a train on my way to another gig. This is the only way I can keep up. Such are the trials of the modern music fan.

Anyway, as we've already established, I'm ever so slightly gigged out, and Karin and I have also spent a very nice day walking about in Greenwich with my sister Helen, at the end of which I nod off on the sofa. This is hardly the correct start to a rocktastic evening.

But the tickets have been bought, and there's the small matter of getting Karin to her much-anticipated first Pain of Salvation gig, so there's no way we're going home. Arriving at the Brixton Academy (another O2 buyout), we are amused beyond belief to note that the "O2 Priority Queue" is actually longer than the other, non corporate sellout queue. We chuckle mightily for 25 minutes while we watch the other poor saps disappearing round the corner into what is by now a never ending line of gig goers.

And then it becomes apparent that we are standing in the ticket collection only queue. We briefly contemplate waiting and getting to the front of this line and then playing dumb and seeing if they will let us in anyway, but decide it's not worth the risk, so we wearily head round to the other queue, which is for both O2 priority customers and regular ones. So, huge priority those lucky O2 customers got, then.

By now the snake of long haired, black clothed metallers is stretching all the way down the long side of the venue, and indeed when we turn the corner, we realise that it also stretches along the short end and round the next corner too. We are just considering carrying on round yet another corner and getting back in the ticket collection queue when we eventually find the end and take our place between a bunch of hardcore metal fans and a guy who seems to be completely stoned, who when we apologise for pushing in front of him, says "It's ok man, I just want to chill."

In actual fact, things don't turn out too badly- we're inside within 30 minutes and manage to get a reasonable standing spot thanks to the eminently sensible architect who decided that if several thousand people were going to stand on the floor and watch something at the other end of the room, it might help to angle the floor downwards. Full marks that man. Or woman, let's not be sexist.

Of course, they didn't also think that it might not be the world's best idea to put the only toilets right at the front of the venue either side of the stage, thereby forcing you to barge your way through the entire crowd to go and relieve yourself of the £2.95 bottle of water they've sold you earlier. Oh well, can't think of everything.

We're not standing there long when the lights dim and some weird troll-like voices start singing in Swedish. Most people look bemused but Karin starts giggling and then pockets of the audience also start to guffaw loudly... Apparently the troll people are calling us all the names under the sun, and there are all kinds of weird jokes about mustard gas and things, which I'm sure make sense if you only get 2 hours of Daylight in winter. When the singing stops, there's slightly bemused applause and then Pain of Salvation kick off their set.

Pain of Salvation started out life as a Prog Metal band creating bizarre concept albums about all kinds of topics from the history of the world to war, sex, and the environment. Wikipedia says that "Their sound is characterised by powerful, accentuated guitar work, broad vocal range, abrupt switching between heavy and calm passages, intense syncopation, and polyrhythmic experimentation." - and I definitely don't disagree with that, up until the last couple of years. Their last two albums, 'Road Salt One' and 'Road Salt Two', whilst again being concept albums, have toned down both the prog and the metal to the point that they are now have a more blues rock-ish sound and focus more on conventional song structures. One of their new songs, Road Salt, was very nearly Sweden's entry to last year's Eurovision song contest. Yes, really.

With the new sound comes a new look. Frontman and PoS mastermind Daniel Gildenlöw is now almost unrecognisable from the 6th form computer nerd who some of you may have seen playing in the shadows on Transatlantic's 'Live In Europe' DVD from 2001.

Mr Gildenlöw, with what Karin describes as "his Bon Jovi hair"

These days, Daniel looks every inch the rock star and parades around the stage like he really believes it, which, when you can sing like he can, I think you're entitled to do. With an incredible range and power, he's a truly impressive vocalist whether he's belting out a rocker like 'Linoleum' or going back to the more introspective growling of the haunting 'Ashes', one of their early classics. With great hair comes great confidence, apparently, as he tries to work up the crowd a bit by getting us to cheer for something, rating our efforts according to the country he thinks we've surpassed in our loudness. Our first attempt warrants a "Good evening, Sweden", but unfortunately we never really make it beyond "Hello, Germany!"

Not that the rest of the band are shy and retiring, oh no. The second guitarist, for instance, rips off his shirt after a couple of numbers and flings his dreadlocks around whilst jumping on and off the speakers. 

Semi-naked dreadlock guy not pictured.
With the majority of the set being taken from the two Road Salt albums, there's not much for the hardcore metallers present to get their teeth into, with the possible exception of the always-excellent 'Fandango' from my favourite PoS album, 'Remedy Lane'. This may explain, but definitely does not excuse, the constant chattter of Opeth fans throughout the entire gig, even prompting Daniel to whisper "Shhhhhhh" whilst trying to kick off a quiet number.

And, with barely any warning at all, the band finish one number and then they're suddenly leaving the stage, almost at if they're not ready to stop playing but someone has pulled the plug. I do hope this isn't the case - as they've definitely not been playing long enough for my liking, and UK gigs are a huge rarity. Hopefully they'll be back for a headline slot next year some time.

And so to Opeth. I've actually been concerned about this evening's gig because I am not the world's biggest fan of metal, and Opeth are most definitely a metal band with proper thrashing and 'Cookie Monster' vocals and everything. Or are they? This year's 'Heritage' album definitely sees the band moving away from this overtly metal sound in favour of a more retro, prog feel with proper vocals, mellotrons and acoustic guitars (influenced partly, I'm sure, by frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt working with Steven Wilson.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that this evening's gig, where the band play the vast majority of 'Heritage', is a much more sedate affair than previous tours - however, a surprise it does seem to be to much of the crowd. 

We've retreated slightly by now, fearing a proper moshpit. Sadly such a thing never happens.

They kick off with a couple of tracks from the new album, including opener 'The Devil's Orchard' and people seem to be enjoying it, but after a while I hear a few people shout "Louder!", and the level of chat starts to escalate. Things get back on track with a song from 1999's 'Still Life' album, which goes down well, and things start to get a bit more metal (still no growling or moshing, though). Unfortunately the man with the world's biggest hair decides to come and stand right in front of me at this point, and I have no choice but to walk away and find a spot right out of the action, for fear of punching him in his annoyingly coiffed head. 

After a couple more tracks from 'Heritage', there's a quite rocking song which I do enjoy but for some reason the band insert a drum solo into it which goes on for ages, and as Karin points out, he's not Neil Peart. Once this is over, the band decide to take it down a notch, stools come out, and there's an acoustic interlude. I have to hand it to Mikael Åkerfeldt and his sense of humour - as soon as the acoustic guitar comes out, he starts strumming the chords to George Michael's 'Faith' and somehow gets the entire crowd singing along with him. "I only played a couple of chords - you knew all the words!" he ribs us when we all collapse in fits of giggles.

All together now... "Kum-ba-yah my lord..."

Evidently this section of the gig completely befuddles the Opeth fans because their chatter goes into overdrive. At one point (during a rather nice song which Mike introduces as being from a video game soundtrack from 1994), Karin actually feels moved to go over and ask some guys to shut up so she can hear the band playing, at which point they get angry and I end up stepping in to tell them to back off (not that I actually need to for her sake, I just feel I want to, since I don't think I've ever defended any woman's honour in my life and I think it's about time.)

This puts me in an even worse mood than giant afro-man and, at this point, the band could play Boney M songs for the rest of the night and I probably wouldn't notice. There are a couple more from 'Heritage', which are enjoyable enough, and then Karin's favourite Opeth track, 'A Fair Judgement' from 2002's 'Deliverance' album, which most definitely gets the crowd going at last, but by the time this is over, we're ready to head to the back of the hall, from where we watch a little bit of 'Haxprocess' from 'Heritage' and decide to go and beat the rush for the tube.

On the way to the station, I notice a few other Opeth fans doing the same thing, and they all seem a bit subdued. "I was a bit disappointed", says one. Honestly, so was I. Whilst I'm not really a metal person, I've been looking forward to seeing what it's like to be in amongst the crowd at a metal gig when the band are really going for it - and those moments have been quite few and far between this evening. I can't help wondering whether, in picking all 'clean vocals' tracks from their catalogue to go with the feel of the new material, they've denied themselves the chance to play some of their best songs. 

And I was really intrigued to see Mikael doing this kind of thing live and up close, even if I'd only have stood about 3 minutes of it before running, screaming, for my Phil Collins albums.

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