Last Saturday, 19th November, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the SSE Arena at Wembley (or, Wembley Arena as it was) to see Swedish progressive metallers Opeth in concert.
Not being overly keen on Wembley’s parking charges, and having memories of taking hours to get out of their car parks on previous visits, I had used a website called Your Parking Space to arrange to “rent” someone’s driveway for the evening. Considerably cheaper and only a few minutes walk from the Wembley complex. I’d certainly use this service again.
I’d left the Forest of Dean in plenty of time to reach Wembley with enough time to park and grab some food and drink before it was time to enter the venue but having got caught in some very heavy traffic jams meaning that the section of journey from Churcham to Elmbridge Court roundabout – which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – took two hours to complete! Luckily once past there the traffic returned to normal and with weather being clear and crisp I was parking at my destination in good time.
A bite to eat and a coffee later, and just as the weather turned to rain, it was 6:00pm and time to enter the arena. As I found my seat it became immediately obvious that this was one of those occasions when playing Wembley Arena actually meant playing half of Wembley Arena as the stage was halfway along the floor and the other half of the arena was curtained off behind it. No matter, this is still a significant event for what is essentially a niche artist, albeit one that has already headlined at the Royal Albert Hall.
Before the main event, though, there was the small matter of supporting act. When I’d booked my ticket the support hadn’t been announced and I must admit I was a bit gutted when I discovered that recent discovery Myrkur was supporting the band on their European dates subsequent to London, and Sahg covering the pre-London shows. However, things looked up with news that Liverpool progressive rock band Anathema.
I had listened to some of Anathema’s albums in the past and quite enjoyed what I heard but wasn’t terribly excited about seeing them live. That changed when they hit the stage and, following an intro tape that seemed somewhat out-of-place with their music, broke into opening number “Thin Air” which grew into a quite impressively epic sound.
Something of a (two) family affair, Anathema are led by lead vocalist / guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, and feature his brothers Daniel Cavanagh (guitars / vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) as well as siblings Lee Douglas (vocals) and John Douglas (drums / percussion / keyboards). The line-up is completed by percussionist / drummer Daniel Cardoso.
Daniel Cavanagh, unusual in attire in that rather than in-ear monitors he sported full-size over-ear headphones, did his best to gee up the less than full crowd and succeeded in getting a good proportion of those who were in their seats to use the light apps on their smart phones in place of stage lighting during the evocative “A Natural Disaster”, which featured a lead vocal from Lee Douglas.
My personal highlight of the band’s short set would be the electronically based “Distant Satellites” which, at one point, saw both John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso joined by Vincent Cavanagh in providing a triple-pronged percussive assault. A very impressive set and a band that I shall be listening to more!
1. Thin Air / 2. Untouchable, Part 1 / 3. A Simple Mistake / 4. Distant Satellites / 5. A Natural Disaster / 6. Fragile Dreams / 7. Springfield
1 and 3 originally from “We’re Here Because We’re Here ” (2010) / 2 originally from “Weather Systems” (2012) / 4 originally from “Distant Satellites” (2014) / 5 originally from “A Natural Disaster” (2003) / 6 originally from “Alternative 4” (1998) / 7 to be on forthcoming studio album “The Optimist” (2017)
A short break later and at around 8:30pm the house lights went down on a much fuller crowd as headliners Opeth began to enter the stage. Joakim Svalberg (keyboards), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass) take to the stage first and lock into the opening jazz-inflected riff to “Sorceress”, the title track of the band’s superb album released in September this year. Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitars / vocals) stride on in time for the track to get going and it’s simply brilliant. The sound is great, vocals clear as a bell, and the guitars heavy as you like.
Following this up with “Ghost Reveries” highlight “Ghost Of Perdition” surely meant that even those not over enamoured with the band’s recent lighter output must have been happy. The band’s playing was incredibly precise, with the light and shade all the more effective live than on record.
Åkerfeldt is an engaging and humorous frontman, with a nice line in self-deprecation. He tells us that when his friends back in Sweden ask what it was like to headline Wembley he’ll tell them that it was “intimate” but will neglect to mention that they moved the stage half way down the hall. Later, when introducing “By The Pain I See In Others” from the album “Deliverance” he will say that this is the third of four times that they will ever play it live, and that this is no real shame as it’s “a bit shit”!
A faultless rendition of “The Grand Conjuration” brings the first set to a thunderous close. Åkerfeldt tells us beforehand that after the song there will be some mysterious sounds and that the group will mysteriously disappear “…well, we’ll go and stand over there…” to give an artistic link into the second set – during which they will play highlights of the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums.
Four largely acoustic numbers come first and all are beautiful and haunting, with “Windowpane” and “Closure” being highlights for me. The best track of the night, however, has to be the crushing closer “Deliverance” itself which sees the band’s machine gun riffing send the rapturous audience out into the pouring rain on a real high.
Even a slow drive back to the England / Wales border in torrential rain with lots of surface water cannot dampen what has been a top class two and a half hour show from a band truly on top of their game. A brilliant performance…
1. Sorceress / 2. Ghost Of Perdition / 3. Demon Of The Fall / 4. The Wilde Flowers / 5. Face Of Melinda / 6. Cusp Of Eternity / 7. The Drapery Falls/ 8. Heir Apparent / 9. The Grand Conjuration / 10. Windowpane / 11. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 12. In My Time Of Need / 13. Closure / 14. Master’s Apprentices / 15. By The Pain I See In Others / 16. Deliverance
1 and 4 originally from “Sorceress” (2016) / 2 and 9 originally from “Ghost Reveries” (2005) / 3 originally from “My Arms, Your Hearse” (1998) / 5 originally from “Still Life” (1999) / 6 originally from “Pale Communion” (2014) / 7 originally from “Blackwater Park” (2001) 8 originally from “Watershed” (2008) / 10, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Damnation” (2003) / 14, 15 and 16 originally from “Deliverance” (2002)