Please excuse the random ramblings in this blog. Its been a while since I actually put keyboard to screen and somehow this gem of a weekend seems to have passed by despite being a major event in itself.
We changed train companies (as if anyone interested) and slipped down to the city on the Virgin Pendolino service from Manchester Piccadilly instead of our normal Leeds to Kings Cross service. Nice and quick, maybe more uncomfortable but it dropped us in Euston bob on time and with a small walk to the hotel in Russell Square.
Bags dumped we set off on the food part of the day, a lunch at Browns in Mayfair which is only a quick 20 min walk from the hotel.. Lunch was excellent value and the wine a nice "pick me up".
We then headed to Westminster Abbey (unfortunately Daniela Nardini was not there to great us at Westminster despite her interest last time) where we spent the afternoon exploring and following the excellent Audio guide. I fully understand that people do get put off buy the admission prices to these places, but its well worth it..
We spent a full afternoon exploring the Cathedral, I was especially moved by the new post war stain glass windows in the chapter house which shows the horror of the great world wars in such subtle yet once discovered and examined horrific detail.
Then it was time to hit the tube and take the underground walk up to exhibition walk and the Albert Hall.
This is not our first visit. In fact we were here last Christmas Eve for the Candlelight Carols on Christmas Eve and before that a performance of Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony coupled with Stravinsky's manic Violin concerto..
Dinner is prebooked inside the Albert Hall which in effect gives you early admission.. The Elgar restaurant is perhaps on the lower scale of the Leiths offerings inside the Hall, but the mussels are divine as is the wine..
Opeth take to the stage promptly at 7.30pm in a floor of dry ice and with a simple light rig and rear screen. They immediately launch into a uninterrupted first set of Blackwater Park which fill the entire Hall with its entire range and power. Lead singer Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt is sticking firmly to the rule that this classic Album will be played in full with no interruptions as he does not speak for the entire set. It almost works and thats not a criticism, its just the band and its crew cant quite pull off the seamless joins in the album and we end up with a slightly disjointed version of the album with a few gaps where equipment changes are necessary; but, and its a huge BUT; this a very small criticism.. It is seriously one of the most powerful performances I have seen by a band recently.
The second half is a bit of a test for us. One of the reasons we are here is because we came across this band via Steve Wilson, Porcupine Tree and the crossover influences and this caused me to discover the latest Album "Watershed". However it quickly became apparent that Opeth themselves wanted to celebrate a gig at the mighty Albert Hall with a full performane of Blackwater Park and older lesser played tracks. Blackwater Park was quickly purchased. A couple of listens to the latest album "Watershead" had already shown they had a grip for melody and rhythm that stretched from simple folk to hard rock that grabbed you by the neck and refused to let go, but there vast back catalogue would have been impossible to engage in before the date of the concert.
Opeth seemed to provide not only there own solution but did it in the most intelligent and structured way I have ever witnessed at a concert. Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt started at their first album in the second set, explained the history, the band set up and the song and progressed with each song until the current album.. It was a superb history lesson and a superb lesson in there music( as well as proving its possible to speak English as a second language and still be a comic genius).
It also proved what talented songwriting and musicianship has been captured in this band, never - even in moments of the darkest of dark metal - does the folk rhythm or understanding of flow and structure ever abandon this band, it is purely breathtaking; they are so tight together I am reminded of Rush but stripped of the huge backstage technical support. In this truly classical environment they sound stunning yet raw but so tuneful (even in songs I am hearing for the first time ever) its like the Albert Hall itself is singing along.
Please.. If you had pre conceptions about what this band was about , drop them and just listen.