When a band makes a habit of turning nearly every show they play into a special event, you would think that loyal fans would reciprocate that generosity by playing along.
Moved to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane at the last minute from the arguably less salubrious Hammersmith Palais, Opeth’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of Ghost Reveries has all the makings of a spine-tingling occasion.
And, for the most part, it delivers precisely that, not least because the band themselves are on dazzling form tonight. The only slight sprinkling of sand knocking about in our collective vagina this evening is the presence of a handful of boorish dickheads who seem hellbent on spoiling the evening for everyone else. This is a seated gig in a posh theatre for a start, and so it should go without saying that bellowing desperately unfunny remarks in between songs is a practice best avoided. Opeth are a band with a dizzying array of moods, textures and dynamics at their disposal, and while total silence would be asking a bit much – particularly since plenty of people seem to have been warming up in the pub since midday – the dribbling cretin that barks “Pop Goes The Weasel!” as Mikael Åkerfeldt is taking requests from the crowd towards the end of Opeth’s second set… well, let’s just say that if he isn’t forcibly removed from the building and given a robust kicking on the way out, he bloody should be.
As you might expect, Mikael handles the whole thing brilliantly, either piercing the buffoons’ noisy narcissism with his usual bone-dry wit or just plain ignoring it, focusing instead on the hundreds of people that are loving every sparkling second of this performance. The first half of the show is just magical: Ghost Reveries in all its destructive pomp, with everything from labyrinthine epics like Ghost Of Perdition and The Baying Of The Hounds through to Atonement’s prolonged psychedelic voyage and the final, heartbreaking fragility of Isolation Years sounding somehow even fuller and more emotionally incisive than in their original studio incarnations. Hearing songs like Beneath The Mire – never performed live before this tour – and the elegant, haunting Hours Of Wealth is a rare privilege, and with the added bonus of a subtly atmospheric stage set replete with candelabras (“…with cheap Ikea bulbs!” notes Mikael), even the witless baying of the few, aforementioned morons can’t puncture our happy reverie. And if anyone is still smarting from Opeth’s alleged relinquishing of their metal hearts, The Grand Conjuration proves a telling moment, as a large number of people start headbanging frantically in their seats. The power of Satan compels them, and it’s a beautiful thing.
One of the most amusing things about Opeth’s debut at the Theatre Royal is that the outside of the building remains adorned with huge posters advertising the well-rated Charlie And The Chocolate Factory musical that is generally resident in the venue. Mikael Åkerfeldt resists the temptation to don a top hat and treat us to a rendition of Pure Imagination, but in the second set of the night, the Swedes definitely shower us with delicious surprises. Despite kicking off with Eternal Rains Shall Fall and Cusp Of Eternity, both from 2014’s Pale Communion, this is more an exercise in unearthing lost gems than in plugging the band’s latest album. A welcome return of The Leper Affinity receives a roar loud enough to shake the rafters, the song sounding more fluid and groovy than it did back in the Blackwater Park days, and all the better for it. After stumbling mischievously through bits of the crowd-requested Face Of Melinda and Closure, Opeth then play the beautiful To Rid The Disease, followed by I Feel The Dark, the most unsettling song from the weirdly contentious Heritage album and one that deserves more regular outings. Sticking to the mood of elaborate disquiet, another Pale Communion cut, Voice Of Treason, provides the evening’s most creepy and menacing moment, that underlying synchronised groove proving hypnotic and gently disturbing.
Having successfully messed with our equilibrium and expectations, they end with the imperious death march of Master’s Apprentices, one of Opeth’s heaviest songs. The opening riff seems to put the entire band into a trance, the coloured lights swirling around them, and the power of the riffs threatening to bring the theatre walls crashing down. It’s a stunning finale.
Returning for an encore – not Deliverance for once, but a wild and exhilarating charge through crazed progsploration The Lotus Eater – Opeth seem to have grown in stature and confidence over the course of the show. There will be more nights like this, more opportunities to acknowledge milestones and honour legacies. Most importantly, there will be more music – the only thing that really matters in Opeth’s fearlessly exploratory world. And no amount of woefully unfunny wankers with a belly full of lager and no social skills will ever change that.