By Jonathan Smith (photos taken by Sean Palmerston)
With the early May sun setting behind the Toronto skyline, the Sound Academy was surrounded by an air of excitement on this Monday night as concert-goers traveled en masse to see Opeth and Enslaved. Inside the venue itself the mood was palpable. In my last visit to the venue, in the midst of the January deep-freeze, the space had been more closed-off and restricted. This time, along side the usual bars and merchandise booths, the food stalls and the outdoor area were fully open and crowded with concert-goers. From my wanderings around the floor, I counted my share of familiar and more experienced faces from around Toronto but also found myself surrounded by a large number of younger fans. This in itself was hardly surprising given the more mainstream exposure Opeth has had and the availability of their albums at the nearest mall or HMV.
What initially did surprise me was the enthusiasm and recognition with which the younger crowd greeted Enslaved as they took to the stage. Seeming to use the energy to their advantage, the Norwegian band opened with a cut from their latest album, Vertebrae. The quality sound mixing allowed for a dynamic blending of progressive melody and Grutle Kjellson’s high-pitched growls. There was a mixture of songs both old and new, and I was pleasantly pleased to hear how much Enslaved’s more recent material fit in with the kind of laid-back ambiance that Opeth would soon generate. Kjellson was in a talkative mood, at one point hauling strands of hair out of his mouth in seeming exasperation and jokingly warning the crowd to “Never grow long hair.” With their set clocking in at about 40 minutes, all-too short given their enthusiasm, Enslaved set the tone for who they described as “the mighty Opeth.”
The crowd had thickened considerably by the time Opeth took the stage, and the Swedes began by launching into material from Watershed. With moody lighting and echoing guitar effects that made it sound as though the band were playing into an empty, dark expanse, they did not disappoint. The set list was varied, blending new songs with some unexpected choices from their past. Vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt was a frequently self-deprecating charmer, chatting about everything from his own early days learning to play guitar to his love of Bryan Adams’ Reckless album (a topic that proceeded his strumming the first few riffs of “Summer of ‘69″). His command of the crowd, including more than one occasion in which he gleefully urged people to “hush up”so that he could finish an anecdote and move the band into the next song, kept things moving smoothly.
The show’s mid-point was very mellow in tone and had the crowd slowly swaying, lost in the jam band-like sonic sea that Opeth unleashed over the venue’s floor. There was also a definite opportunity for bombastic “guitar hero” reverence, with Fredrik Åkesson hammering out lightning-fast riffs to the delight of fans. Åkerfeldt’s announcement that the band was taking a break and his suggestions about how hard it was being a touring band were met with some skepticism and cynicism, but the occasional bouts of incredulity from the audience were overshadowed by the aura of glowing admiration that served as a reminder of just how prominent Opeth has become for the latest generations of metal fans. As they began to wind down for the evening, Åkerfeldt asked the audience whether it would “be here for us” when the band eventually returned. If Monday night’s performance was to be their last for a time, Opeth ensured that when they come back they are sure to be greeted by an ever-enthusiastic and seemingly ever-growing fan base.