Venue: The Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center (New York, NY)
Label: Roadrunner Records
Having just seen the mighty Opeth back in September of 2008 I admit to being a little bit surprised to find them returning to our fair city so soon but with the amount of material that they have under their belt this is always a welcome visit when it comes down to it. They have been touring relentlessly for their latest album “Watershed”, and the positive reception that the album has received finds them snaring new fans with each and every stop that they make. What made this show very special times two would be the fact that supporting Opeth on their continued aural assault would be the mighty Enslaved. Tonight’s show would take place in the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center and many of you readers might know the spot I am talking about based on its first floor venue The Hammerstein Ballroom. The Grand Ballroom is located a full seven floors above that space and we will get a little more into the logistical nightmare that it adds to the enjoyment of a Metal show a little later on in the commentary but first I wanted to heap some praise on the band Enslaved.
Enslaved: The band had originally been scheduled for some US regional touring dates a few months ago but all of them were cancelled and that made for a lot of unhappy Black Metal fans who had been enjoying the groups latest and perhaps best release to date “Vertabrae”. If you have not heard this album yet then I suggest that you do so because it really upgrades the bands game and reminds us why they are so important to the genre. While a Metal recording without question, there is a lot of Pink Floyd type vibe and Psychedelia blended seamlessly into the crushing Atmospheric Black Metal on this one that make it a supremely interesting listen. Tonight the band would go on at about 7:45 and based on the way that this venue was letting the patrons in there were a lot of people scrambling to get upstairs into the room and missing a few numbers. My friends and I managed to get into the place just as the group was closing out on their second number and as expected a strong core of the set list would feature songs from the new CD. Fronted by Grutle Kjellson, the band sounded excellent and right in the pocket musically as they delivered an all too brief set of material. The singing bassist would inform the crowd that they would be playing longer but with this being an opening support slot they simply couldn’t and he promised that they would try to come back soon for a proper headlining tour. It would have been better for many had this been sold as a co-headlining bill and found Enslaved doing a little more than an hour as opposed to what appeared to be only 45 minutes, but it was better to see them doing something as opposed to nothing at all. Outside of the new CD highlights, the older tracks of “Ruun” and “Isa” went over like gangbusters. I have to say that I really look forward to seeing them again and hope that our wait as a Metal community is not finding this to be something that takes too long to happen. Now it was time for Opeth to return to their following and the venue was as crowded as it seemed that it was going to be.
Opeth: As noted earlier this has been a busy time for the guys in Opeth who are continuing to deliver both innovative and intelligent Metal under the banner of their no longer new record label. They’ve been in a relentless touring mode for the release and while such things are never set in stone, this show tonight could be the last time that we see them over here without new material for a little while. They hit the stage promptly and started the mind melting with “Heir Apparent” from the “Watershed” CD and it was a hell of a way to start off the night. Akerfeldt introduced themselves as “the best band in the world” and this was met with rousing applause. Michael speaks in such a deadpan serious tone that it makes any of his humorous anecdotes really a lot more fun to hear. Tonight he was sporting a Judas Priest “British Steel” shirt which continues the musicians love for that which is vintage in the music world. It was rather timely to see him wearing this particular album from the Priest, as that band is set to embark on their own world tour which will be featuring music from this release in its entirety during the summer months.
Between the melodically devastating tunes Mike would interact with the audience on a number of occasions and while he mentioned that he felt that they were a little less lively than he expected he did not let this stop this from having a good time. Having seen Opeth a number of times, I don’t really feel that they are a crowd surfing or moshable type of band at this point but one never knows when this activity will take place during a Metal show no matter what the band is playing. The set list being delivered this evening was a lot different from that of the last appearance that I caught and where we found “Leper Affinity” and “Deliverance” the last time, tonight would find the songs “Wreath” and “Karma”. Michael would introduce “Wreath” as a Death Metal song while the lead in for “Karma” came with the information that the track had never before been played in New York City and this news was surely a treat to the fans in the room. The musician would joke with the crowd a little more about his shirt and he seemed to be having a back and forth with someone in the front discussing whose shirt was better. The fan was convinced his own was, but Mike seemed to win out when he told us that his only cost five bucks. He asked if we all liked his pants and said they originally belonged to a member of Nevermore and he took them since when they were washed they had shrunk and now fit his small girl legs. I don’t know exactly what led to his comment about getting his c**k sucked, but it was funny when he took that back and said he could just have someone in the band do that for him. These dialogues between the musician and the audience make me think of the shows that both make me recall performances of Carl Palmer and Rick Wakeman who both interject a lot of humor into their performances. Clearly Akerfeldt has what it takes to do one of these kinds of shows for the Metal community.
As the set drew closer to ending the guitarist told the crowd that while he has visited NYC a number of times he has never really seen it at all, and things like all of the porn shops he does not get treated to. He might be surprised to find out that much of this is the stuff of ancient NYC legend at this point in our city’s history. There are a few but nothing like there used to be, especially in the Times Square area which he was probably thinking of. “Lotus Eater” from the latest CD went over like gangbusters and it would all close up with “Demon Of The Fall” from their “My Arms Your Hearse” album. It’s a popular finale for the group and left everyone in the audience with the desired effect. I recall a conversation with one of the Metal girls around me who said that the band proves to be better and better with each and every gig and how their music is almost euphoric when it comes down to it. This was such a great thing to hear from one of the crowd and shows that the band is reaching people who watch them on a deeper level. Before the show ended we got a quick guitar solo from Fredrik Akesson who is showing how he fits right into the lineup at this point and the rock solid drumming of Martin Axenrot was introduced as being “Drums of steel, like Manowar”. If Mike ever does a standup routine count me in for front table seats. I look forward to the band getting back into the studio to deliver their next magnum opus to the fans and cannot wait to find Enslaved returning to a headlining gig the next time around as well. It was very different being at a two band bill for a change, but of course so much better than a five or six band cluster of music which doesn’t give you the proper chance to enjoy each participant in the best fashion.
Closing up I had to say that I was very happy to have been at the show but I did have some real issues with the means of getting inside to enjoy this properly and on time. The Hammerstein Ballroom takes forever in getting the audience inside the room to enjoy their paid for performance and often the line to get in stretches up to the avenue above and around the corner. That’s a long line when you see it and this particular space where the show was being held was a full seven stories upstairs and made the use of a single elevator a necessity for many of the attendees. That being said I know it took me and a number of others almost 45 minutes just to get in and as result I missed a couple of Enslaved’s tunes. This place really needs to do something a little more creative with their getting the people inside for as it stands I have missed two full band sets over the past year and mirror some other friends who had the same thing happen to them at equally important shows. For the time being I think I will stick with the Nokia’s and B.B. King’s of the region in order to know that I get inside to capture the full show and will not miss a note. Another issue was how this was reported as being “sold out” and many of the Metal faithful were left standing outside hoping to find a ticket somehow. The Grand Ballroom surely appeared to have enough space for a couple of hundred additional fans to enter but my guess is that only a certain amount of patrons are allowed in the venue for fire safety reasons, after all it was seven floors up as you recall me saying. I have been to a number of shows were being sold out meant that you were not able to move and inch or even breathe sometimes (Emperor, Immortal, Nightwish) and this was definitely not the case this evening. There was plenty of room to move freely about and mingle with any number of Metal head friends that you might have had in the place. There is also what appeared to be a spacious balcony with seats. It will probably be a little while before I find myself interested in hitting a show over here and I hope that somehow they work out these kinks for everyone’s enjoyment.
Enslaved Set List:
1. To the Coast
2. Fusion of Sense and Earth
4. As Fire Swept Clean the Earth
6. The Watcher
Opeth Set List:
1. Heir Apparent
2. Ghost of Perdition
3. Godheads Lament
6. Hessian Peel
8. The Night and the Silent Water
9. Lotus Eater
10. Demon of the Fall – finale