Review By Laura Wiebe; Photos by Adam Wills
Walking into the Opera House seconds before Stolen Babies started to play I had just time enough to make my way to the floor and find a good line of sight. It seemed to take a while for all that was happening on stage to make its way to the speakers (and the accordion never really rose to the surface) but the spectacle was in place from the very first note. The stage set-up was a vision in itself, from the severed hand cupped around the bassist’s microphone on one side of the stage to the chain-draped drum-like items packed into the left. Each member of the band was completely involved in the performance, but front woman Dominique Lenore Persi was particularly captivating – with an accordion strapped across her chest or without it – her voice almost inhumanly perfect as a velvety croon or a rabid cry. Most of Stolen Babies’ short set was taken from full-length debut There Be Squabbles Ahead (2006) with a couple of tracks from new album Naught thrown in (two of my favourites, as it happens).
Paradise Lost quickly took Stolen Babies’ place on stage, keeping the energy going after a relatively short break between bands. But as much as I’d been looking forward to the Brits’ performance, it ultimately seemed a wasted opportunity – they came across like a very ordinary modern rock band when they’re really so much more. Despite the wealth of doomy groovy tracks on their latest two records – which sound perfect for translation to live performance – Paradise Lost’s set drew fairly heavily from their popular and beat-heavy but less interesting mid-career albums. And their delivery was a tad too casual – laidback and friendly but hardly worthy of gothic doom’s founding fathers. I nearly forgave them everything for including “In This We Dwell” – perhaps the best track from this year’s Tragic Idol, but I had hoped for a whole lot more.
Katatonia, on the other hand, was even better than I had expected. Forewarned that they’re concentrating on their most recent albums, I was nearly gleeful at the gestures to Discouraged Ones (“Deadhouse”) and Last Fair Deal Gone Down (“Tear Gas”). And as a whole, the band seems to be getting more engaging as they age. Guitarist/singer Anders Nyström sings along even when he’s nowhere near the mic, Jonas Renkse becomes a better front man every year, and even the newest members look to be thoroughly integrated into this Swedish metal family. Things were a little muddy, a little distorted (especially at the bass end of the frequency spectrum), but that hardly got in the way of the overall effect. Selections from Dead End Kings weren’t the most memorable moments – it’s less an album of “songs” than an atmospheric experience – but they blended well with the other tracks, helping to build and sustain the ever-distinctive Katatonia aesthetic.
In the longer break between the co-headliners, the audience was treated to a Ziltoid appearance and some humorous video footage – now pretty much an essential precursor to any Devin Townsend Project performance. Continuing in that spirit, there were no real surprises with this final set of the night – I expected much and, as usual, Townsend and band delivered. New album Epicloud received the most set- list attention, from the overwhelmingly upbeat (“Lucky Animals”) to the chuggingly heavy (“Grace”) to earlier Townsend reimagined (“Kingdom”). “War” from Infinity was a particularly welcome addition to this tour, but the epically long and complex “Planet of the Apes” was a weaker choice, allowing a drop in the otherwise steady forward momentum. It’s a fairly minor quibble, and things picked up again very quickly so that by the time Townsend announced the obligatory “encore,” “Bad Devil,” he could have easily kept the crowd entertained for several songs more.
With tour line-ups so diverse – much like metal in general – it’s not that common to run into a show where every band demands your equal attention (in anticipation, if not necessarily in performance). But the Epic Kings and Idols tour might have been custom designed for a metalhead like me, and even without a perfect execution this one ranks high amidst my favourite concerts of the year.