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Gig Review: Opeth + Caligula’s Horse, Brisbane

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Opeth + Caligula’s Horse
Eatons Hill Function Centre
6 May 2015
Review by Nathan Eden

In the middle of Opeth’s 2015 Australian tour was their Brisbane show, yet another example of why you really need to get out to see live music – not because you can sing along to your favourite jam – but to feel the kick drum hit your chest and get caught up in the raw moment with brilliant musicians and a few hundred sweaty people wearing mostly black. Having said that, the nature of an Opeth gig finds punters as diverse as the band’s back catalogue; I saw a four-foot-nothing granny banging her head next to me as her delighted family and a bunch of dudes with long hair looked on.

Openers for the evening were local progressives Caligula’s Horse. It had apparently been a great few days for lead vocalist, Jim Grey. What was perhaps a career milestone in sharing the stage with Opeth, topped only by a personal high as he told the crowd, “What a good way to celebrate the birth of my baby girl yesterday”. Crowd cheers ensued before Jim added, “Yeah. My dick works”.

As it turns out, the dynamic of the band’s live performance works as well as its singer’s undercarriage. Caligula’s Horse played to a home crowd which appeared a mixture of those who knew and loved the tunes, and a handful of weirdos who seemed to think it was funny to heckle throughout. I’m pleased to say that the gifted vocalist and his mates managed to both cater to the former and drown out the latter with walls of heavy groove interspersed with some great passages of melodic musicianship. Playing selected cuts from 2013’s The Tide, The Thief & River’s End, as well as 2011’s Moments From Ephemeral City, the band were simultaneously tight musically but laid back in approach, suggesting a confident band with an intent on becoming your next favourite Australian progressive metal band. It seems quite a good time for fans of this type of music in our country, don’t you think?

Speaking of our favourite progressive metal bands, have any of you guys heard of this Swedish quintet that call themselves “Opeth”? With a back catalogue like these guys, you might forgive them for not knowing where to start, however, this was clearly not a problem for Mikael and co.

Kicking off with ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ from last year’s Pale Communion, the first thing that struck the listener was just how (for lack of a more encompassing word) good they were. The professional understanding of their instruments and how to facilitate crowd enjoyment with them provides an experience which easily eclipses what could be garnered via an iPod.

As the band’s front man alluded to at one point during the night, there would be those who don’t enjoy the death metal parts of the band’s repertoire, and there would be those who don’t enjoy anything else. Following one of those heavier parts, a friend next to me remarked on how well Åkerfeldt performed the death growls and screams. It’s true; he did sound like he was tearing strips from a beast, and although their discography has evolved to even up the meat/veg ratio, the band’s live performance appears to have found a crowd-pleasingly omnivorous resting point. At times beautiful and haunting, both the vocals and music have the effortless ability to shift to through the gears to full-on assault, usually within the same song. Whilst for a lesser band this may sound contrived, Opeth make it appear nothing if not natural.

The only hiccups of the evening were with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson’s gear. There were crackles and pops mixed with some mild levels of frustration surrounding his setup for most of the set. During moments of pressing attention, the band’s leader distracted us with articulate humour. He told of how his friend warned him Brisbane was the “home of the hillbillies”. A claim that a guy near me went some way towards validating by demanding that Opeth “play some Green Day!”

With problems somewhat resolved, Åkerfeldt offered, “It sounds like a fart but we’re gunna play anyway”. They did and it was brilliant. The band scoped the breadth of their career with highlights including ‘April Ethereal’ form 1998’s My Arms, Your Hearse, and ‘Windowpane’ from 2003’s Damnation; two songs which could not be more different in sound and yet somehow manage to achieve a complementing aural aesthetic.

Towards the end of the evening, as the hillbillies’ excitement reached new heights, Mikael warned us; “If you don’t shut up we’re going to play ‘China Girl’ by David Bowie. It was a mercifully empty threat as the band launched in to an energetic performance of ‘The Lotus Eater’ from 2008’s Watershed, before closing with ‘The Grand Conjuration’ and encore, ‘Deliverance’.

With a band like Opeth, you will never truly get the full package until you see them in a live setting. This is not a Nike advertisement, but if you get the chance, just do it.

Opeth photo: Kierra Thorn, Sydney

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