Friday, November 25, 2005

Live: Opeth, Gov't Mule, Suffocation

What's with all these great shows coming to town? Maybe the strong CDN dollar is making the trip across the border less painful for bands, or maybe local promoters are getting hip to the fact that bands with no airplay can still fill a room. All I know for sure is I've been to so many shows lately that there's been no time to report on all of them in any detail. Here's a typical week at the Commodore last month...

Opeth, October 14. I was all set to fly to Toronto for Day of the Equinox on the 14th when they announced Opeth would be playing Vancouver the same day. Their drummer would again be a no-show (making him 0 for 3 in Vancouver), but they had a guy in place who could play a whole set...sounded promising. With Ghost Reveries confirmed as my favourite album of 2005, I decided to stay in town and finally take in a full-length Opeth set. I’m glad I did. After opening sets from STREETS and Fireball Ministry, Opeth came out with the one song I wanted to hear that night, “The Baying of the Hounds”—I swear, it was one of the high points of my life. The set was packed with monster epics, save for the one selection from Damnation, “In My Time of Need.” The biggest surprise for me was “The Grand Conjuration,” which I’ve always considered one of the least interesting songs on the new album. Since Opeth previewed it at the Sounds of the Underground fest last summer, it’s become a vast, shuddering cathedral of sound. Forget the album version, or the “single” edit with video, the live version is the one to experience. A couple of other minor revelations: A) Michael Akerfeldt is a brilliant yet down-to-earth guy who was put on this planet to become a huge rock star, and watching it happen these past few years has been a real pleasure...and B) Vancouver’s relationship to heavy metal has undergone a big shift from its long history of dismissal and mockery. Not only was the Commodore absolutely packed, but the Georgia Straight actually ran a respectful, expertly informed gig review (by Lucas Aykroyd) the following week.

Govt Mule & moe, October 16. All the advertising for this gig led me to believe that moe would be opening, not alternating the headline spot with Govt Mule during the tour. Unfortunately, the Mule was already on stage when we walked into the Commodore. Their set was punchier than the last time they came through town, with an emphasis on their shorter, more rocking songs—“Blind Man in the Dark,” “Bad Little Doggie,” etc. A point of comparison might be their chosen cover song for the evening. Last year it was a sprawling “No Quarter”; this time they performed a fairly straight reading of “I’m So Tired” by The Beatles. Moe countered with Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” (the percussionist replicated that song’s backwards cymbal effect quite nicely) early in their set to get the classic rock fans on their side. They didn’t have much else, unfortunately, besides crack musicianship and ease on stage.

Suffocation, with Cryptopsy, Despised Icon, and Aborted, Oct. 18. Back to the Commodore, an optimistically large venue for an uncompromising bill of brutal death metal. Belgium’s Aborted rocked hard in a nasty but accessible way. The kids in Despised Icon stuck out with their short hair and non-trad approach, although their tunes were as blast-happy as their tour mates. Their dual vocals lineup (two dudes pacing the stage screaming almost identically) struck me as a load of nonsense, but I don’t think Despised Icon earned the hatred that was expressed on the discussion boards after the show. Cryptopsy were back again with vocalist Lord Worm, who didn’t impress me last time when they played at the Brickyard. After seeing this show, I’ve come around to his whole deal. Lord Worm is not one to whip up the crowd; he’s got a low-key, subtly macabre vibe that takes some getting used to. While I better understand the ways of the Worm, I’m now less blown away by the material the rest of the band played. The whole set seemed to skitter by in a riffless maelstrom, with hyperactive speed canceling out the heaviness. Suffocation, pioneers in this whole brutal DM business, were the best band of the night. Terrance Hobbs is probably the best death metal guitarist I’ve ever seen, and vocalist Frank Mullen brought a certain New Yawk street-level charm to the event, along with some interesting stage moves, like some Al Jolsonesque hand gesturing during the blastbeat sections. Ha-cha-cha! Most importantly, the band were heavy in a way that Cryptopsy only flirted with, exemplified by songs, like “Pierced From Within” and “Liege of Inveracity,” that pick their moments to carefully grind a boot in yer face.

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