Friday, February 10, 2012

Opeth @ Fort Canning Park, Singapore 2-09-2012

News had reached me through some of my martial arts buddies in KL that Opeth would be playing Singapore. As lukewarm as I am to the last few albums, I couldn't pass up the chance to see them here in Asia (I'd already seen them in New York - once on their first US tour in 2001, and once in 2008). Besides, it's not like KL is teeming with metal shows - and I'll jump on any reason to get out of Malaysia.

With its huge trees and ivy growing over everything, Fort Canning Park was the perfect place for Opeth's folk-inflected forest metal (and, as I later discovered, it contains a graveyard where over 600 are buried - KVLT!). It's also much bigger than I expected; wandering in circles, I started to worry that I was going to miss the opening time when I heard the strains of vintage Opeth ringing through the park. Running to find the source, I came to the designated concert area (Fort Canning Gate) where the band was performing their soundcheck - which itself drew a reverent crowd (and applause).

[This, unfortunately, was as close as my camera got to Opeth. More on that later.]

The walls around the concert area were barely knee high, and one imagines that the crowd could have stormed past security (such as it was) to stand before their heroes if they wanted to. But everyone chose to stand respectfully outside and wait to be let in. Ah, Singaporeans and their deference to's a nice change from the chaos of Malaysia.

It turned out my cousin Abel (who I hadn't seen since at least 2007) drove down from Malaysia with his friends for the concert. Even though Abel is my youngest cousin (there's a 10 year age difference between us), he's the only one in my family who shares my love for extreme metal. Maybe it skips a generation. One of his friends told me that Abel got him into Opeth; Abel replied in turn that I was the one who introduced him to the band, back in 2005.
And on it goes, this thing of ours.

When the "doors" were finally opened, we had to go through the token security checkpoint...where my camera was confiscated. Apparently the instruction had come down from the concert promoters that DSLRs weren't allowed in. I was annoyed...I'm no real journalist, nor a professional photographer. But I am a guy who spent $80 on a concert ticket and 4 hours on a bus, just so I could support the "local" scene. What possible harm could my camera cause?

Even more irritating: there were rows of kids with their pocket cams and smart phones piled in front of the stage, shooting at will. I tried to plead my case with the security staff: My camera wasn't a video camera (which was specifically prohibited), and I just wanted to shoot still images for my blog. The security staff was extremely apologetic, saying "Management said no DSLR cameras. I'm sorry, bro." My lips pressed into a thin line, and I nodded grimly and patted the girl on the shoulder. But I was extremely annoyed, and being surrounded by hundreds of kids with cameras that weren't confiscated didn't exactly pacify me.

So, lacking any real photos of the band, I present Opeth as played by the foliage of Fort Canning Park:

Opeth opened their set with "The Devil's Orchard" (featuring the most courtly invocation of "God is Dead" since Nietzsche), and yet there wasn't the mad rush to the stage that generally typifies the start of a rock concert. Singaporean politeness wins out over heshitude once again.

Or maybe the crowd just didn't know what to do with themselves; prog rock, after all, isn't known for inciting mosh pits. Whereas older Opeth albums went from somber passages to storming grandiloquence (and back again, usually within the same song), their newer material is lacking in menace. Like the American and European Heritage tours, the majority of the set was culled from Opeth's quieter moments - if you were an OG fan hoping for something off of the first two albums, you were left in the cold (though they did play "Credence," updated with a layer of Moog keyboards for that extra 70's verisimilitude).

Opeth's live show isn't the only thing that's not as heavy as it used to be; mainman Åkerfeldt himself looks Scarecrow thin. Luckily, he's still rocking the 70's porn 'stache, which is as much his signature as his between-song-banter (second only to Immortal's Abbath). Some choice bits:

- Exhorting the crowd to fistbang during the Rainbow inspired "Slither", explaining "That's what they did before someone invented headbanging."

- In response to numerous calls for older Opeth songs: "Do we look like we take requests?"

- Introducing his longtime bassist Martin Mendez as, alternately, "a Satanist," "a Buddhist," "a Christian," and finally, "an asshole."

- An ingenious bit of business where he threw his guitar picks to the audience one by one, called up a roadie to bring him some more (while the band played some oompah music), only to throw out all his picks again and repeat the process. Maybe you had to be there.

Luckily for everyone in the park that night, the band broke with their "clean vocals only" mandate and acquiesced to fans' expectations. Starting with "Heir Apparent," they launched into the second part of their set - the part that we all were waiting for, where Mikael displays why he's one of the preeminent death metal vocalists on the planet. Is there anyone in the world who can match his inhuman bellows? I grabbed my cousin and one of his friends for a group headbang [This isn't as gay as it sounds. Okay, it's exactly as it gay as it sounds].

"The Grand Conjuration" got the crowd really going for the first time, with one brave soul trying to show his appreciation by crowd surfing - and got dropped on his head for his troubles. "The Drapery Falls" was jokingly introduced as their "hit single," but considering the audience's reaction - their singing nearly drowned out the band - there's a lot of truth in that statement.

The bad declined to walk offstage for their encore ("We've got nowhere to go!"), instead telling the audience how much they enjoyed playing [insert town here]. Mikael teased the intro of "Welcome to the Jungle" before the band launched into the syncopated thrashfest that is "Deliverance," the ending to which never fails to give me whiplash.

And with that, the band lined up for their traditional end-of-show bow. Based on the rapturous applause, they earned it. As we exited the concert area, my camera was waiting for me at security... in a Subway sandwich bag. I'm still annoyed.