Opeth & Katatonia:

First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, USA October 7th, 2011

by Paul Hanson

The First Avenue Club in downtown Minneapolis is a legendary venue. There’s good food next door at the Depot which is connected to the club and you can get a breakfast burger (hamburger, cheese, bacon, fried egg) before the gig you see inside the venue. On the outside of the building, the bands that have played the venue are written within a white star. Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a bunch of others have played the place. Based upon Friday’s performance, I’d be hesitant to add Opeth to the aforementioned stars. Their show was mediocre at best.

opethkatatonia_250Someone yelled “Blackwater Park!” about midway through Opeth’s set Friday night. Opeth, the legendary Swiss metal band, touring in support of their tenth CD Heritage, didn’t hear the disgruntled fan. I also proved that they could not read my mind as I desperately wanted to hear “Bleak,” which is also from that release. Instead, I heard “Face Of Melinda” and almost every slow and dreamy track from their catalog. Except “Slither,” the band’s brief up-tempo tribute to Ronnie James Dio on Heritage, I was starving for any song that was at least marginally fast.

You’re not supposed to be bored at a metal concert, but this was only marginally metal. Even a wife that is not into heavy metal might have actually liked this show. It felt more like a hippie band. All that was missing were a couple of area rugs on stage and a lava lamp or two. When the band played two songs that were acoustic-driven while sitting on folding chairs and the drummer started playing with brushes, I wondered whether I was really at a metal concert.

While lead vocalist/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt was a reasonably good host, talking to the crowd and asking if we were doing okay, the sound system successfully muddied his attempts at humor. His vocals, though, sounded like reproductions of the studio versions of the songs that the band played so it confirmed that he is a talented musician. And there is no question in my mind that the band is talented. New keyboardist Joakim Svalberg was introduced and received a warm reception, as did new drummer Martin Axenrot during his drum solo. When the band ended their set, I was mystified that a legendary metal band could have played such a set of un-metal tunes.

Opener Katatonia, touring in celebration of their 20th anniversary as a band, actually was heavier and meatier sounding than Opeth. Brief brilliance was displayed during many of their songs as the guitar riff tied into the double bass patterns. Vocalist Jonas Renske is a larger build dude that stands in front of the mic and doesn’t move. What he lacks in stage presence is fully compensated for in the way he delivers his vocals, which melt into the sonic storm of guitarists Anders Nvstrom and Per Eriksson, bassist Niklas Sandin, and drummer Daniel Liljekvist. I liked Katatonia better than Opeth, which surprised me since I had never listened to their material until the 4.5 hour ride up to the show.

Overall, I expected heavier material from Opeth. As part of the ticket package I purchased, I got Heritage, which I plan to review soon. From my seat on the balcony, I could only see a mosh pit break out three times. I hope that Opeth continues to tour. It was a dream come true to drive 4.5 hours to see the band. 

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