Devin Townsend Band – Hartford – Webster Theater, CT – 2006-02-24

Devin Townsend Band
Where: Hartford – Webster Theater, CT.

When: 2006-02-24

Opeth has been around for quite a long time. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt formed the band in 1990, and since the release of the debut album Orchid in 1995, the metal world has never been the same. Ten years after that first release, Opeth unleashed Ghost Reveries, its eighth studio album, and on the second time around the States in its support, Opeth showed Americans why it is that Scandinavia will always be hailed as the land of madly pumping devil-horn hand insignia and brutal, technical innovation.

Hammering their way though a nine-song, 90-minute set, the guys in Opeth were at the top of their form. While hours earlier Mikael Åkerfeldt had told me in a candid interview that he felt the band hadn’t performed well the night before, any sign of lacking energy or difficulty in band chemistry was not apparent when they took the stage. Though the band has been utilizing Witchery drummer Martin Axe as a temporary replacement for Martin Lopez, the band has not suffered in the least, with Axe picking up the material quickly and pounding away as though he’d been with Opeth from the very beginning.

Opening with the new track “Ghosts of Perdition,” Opeth whipped up a storm of frenzied head-bangers and jostling moshers (a little out of place at a progressive metal concert, but at the same time, oddly appropriate), and from that initial jump start, the crowd’s energy would not dwindle until well after the encore concluded, when flush-faced fans flooded out into the cold night, ears ringing and fingers wildly reliving the experience via air guitar. The power of Opeth is the musicians’ ability to seemingly transcend time, something they accomplish both on album and in a live setting. Almost all of the songs they played exceeded the 10-minute mark, and yet they always felt short, and as enthralled as the audience was to be a part of it all, there was an air of disappointment throughout the venue at how quickly the show seemed to be going by. Tightly packed, the crowd had become a living, breathing thing, a creature feeding on the aural wash that cascaded from the stage, and had Opeth played into the early hours of the morning, I don’t doubt that the venue would still have been packed when the sun began to slowly ease its rays up the sides of the sleeping Hartford buildings.

The highlight of the set was certainly “Closure,” taken from the band’s 2003 non-metal affair Damnation, stretched to more than twice its length and whipped into a crescendo of blissed-out psychedelic feedback and frantic Hammond-soloing by new member and keyboardist Per Wiberg. Towards the end of the song, bassist Martin Mendez was possessed, channeling his idol Jaco, his fingers caressing his instrument with a grace and speed that certainly puts him in the running as one of the greatest metal bassists of all time. For long-time Opeth fans, however, it was a special night indeed, as the band played both “The Amen Corner” and “Under the Weeping Moon,” two tracks from older albums that the band had never played in a live setting before the current tour. The tracks fit in seamlessly with the newer material, the result of months of rehearsing numerous older tracks, which the band has been whipping out randomly at various tour stops.

Still Life favorite “White Cluster,” another rarely played track, rounded off the special surprises of the night and reminded all present that Opeth has been miles ahead of the rest of the metal and progressive music scene for more than a decade now. Before slamming into the encore, “Deliverance,” Åkerfeldt jokingly asked what the audience was going to do for the band in return for another song, suggesting a fee of “five dollars each.” Almost instantly, he was pelted with a hail of crumpled up bills, and a few hands frantically extended credit cards. Åkerfeldt threw what money he could collect back to the audience, and the smile on his face suggested that having fans such as those present was more payment than any band could ever ask for.

Dark Tranquillity, also hailing from Sweden, took the stage before Opeth, and though that band’s set was energetic and the musicians had many fans in the audience, the band seemed more concerned with basking in stardom than delivering musically. The bassist proceeded to spend nearly half his time on stage pumping his fists in the air and riling the audience up, rather than actually playing his instrument. Their brand of “melodi-death” is generally well received among the metal community, though the “melodic” part of it seems to be derived entirely from their excessive use of keyboards, rather than the use of clean vocal melodies and acoustic passages à la Opeth. In any case, the musical performance generally didn’t suffer as a result of their ego-fueled enthusiasm, and if anything, they succeeded in getting everyone wound up for the true metal heroes that would follow them.

Opening was the Devin Townsend Band, featuring the maniacal Strapping Young Lad frontman with a new crew of players and a new album, Synchestra, to promote. Townsend was as charismatic as ever, proclaiming “Look at me, I look fucking cool!” while standing tall at the front of the stage with his fan-loved “skullet:” a head of long metal hair despite being completely bald on top. At one point, Townsend released a flurry of rapid guitar notes, proclaiming “this is what I did when was a teenager instead of having sex…this and lots and lots of Dungeons and Dragons.” DTB whipped out mostly new tracks for the band’s half-hour set, with the highlight being the closer “Vampolka/Vampira,” a bouncing metal-polka (that’s right) oddity that blooms into a wild, fist-pumping hair metal track complete with “Hey! Hey!” chorus. While in the past Townsend has had a tendency to scare off audiences, they were completely within his clutches on this occasion.

In all, musical experience at its pinnacle.