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Still Life: Opeth, Katatonia @ Mayan Theater, 10/19/11

I will be the first to admit that a) I am not an audiophile as people expect me to be and b) I don’t have the greatest taste in music.

It took me a long time to ‘get’ Opeth. I had heard of them for years, but every time I tried to listen, I found it…confusing. This was not even remedied when I saw them live. It wasn’t until something compelled me to sit down with Blackwater Park and listen to it two times in a row that I finally understood that this was on a different level that a lot of what I’ve listened to, regardless of genre. Does that mean they are my favorite band? No. But I learned to appreciate Opeth and certain songs have made it into that ever-present but always changing personal soundtrack that runs in the background of my mind.

Once the tour launched on the east coast, Opethians spread the word that this setlist contained only songs with clean vocals. Granted, the album this tour supports, Heritage, is on the lighter side of previous works. However, the band is celebrating their 20th anniversary…and when the majority of their songs contain harsh vocals, the setlist choice dampened my interest in the show. Which figures; I didn’t appreciate the setlist I got at the last show at the time! In my opinion, the tour should probably have been billed as such, just to set expectations.

The morning of the show, I woke to a very gloomy LA, which matched my mood. Both never lifted all day; and as I stood in line for will call, I was just not feeling this show at all. But the giddy excitement of everyone around me proved to be contagious, and once inside I was a blank slate.

I had never been to the Mayan Theater. It seemed a little Vegas-y; at first glance you’re like “cool…it looks all fancy and old” but then upon closer examination you see it is all a facade, and the decor is kind of ‘rent a Mayan themed party’ garish. I hate going to new venues I know nothing about because I have to learn all the ins and outs….you can’t take drinks on the floor here, I could not find the perfectly sloped spot to give me a good line of sight, etc.

Katatonia began shortly after I found a place to stand that I was ok with. I’ve only recently familiarized myself with them, but I’ve really liked what I know. They marry the heavy and the light very well. They’re the kind of band that had some of the uberfans around me outstretching their arms singing along eyes closed the whole time. Katatonia have some very perfectly timed guitar raises, but what caught my attention most of all was the vocalist. I’ve never seen someone spend almost the entire set singing behind their hair. It really was a bit like watching Cousin It. Katatonia, like Opeth and Enslaved, are also celebrating their 20th anniversary. The final two songs had the vocalist pick up a guitar and the lead guitarist switch to the harsher vocals of the older tracks. It was an odd way to end the set, a rewind button for them was a ramp up in heaviness for us.

People are crazy about Opeth. As soon as the set began, it was as if all the space on the floor was instantly sucked out as everyone scrambled to be as close to the music as possible. The set was adorned with the swirly O of the band’s logo and cover art from the album. The set began with “The Devil’s Orchard” and continued with “I Feel The Dark”, both off the new album. Immediately, I felt like I was at a rock opera/Satriani/Vai show of sorts.

There’s something about Opeth songs- especially these ‘lighter’ ones- that put the onus on me in terms of how to feel. Is it dark? Is it hopeful? Am I supposed to be happy or angry? Most of the live shows I go to hand me an emotion to deal with; this one had my mind kind of drifting into the abstract. And I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with that.

Onto “Face of Melinda”; the beginning of this song is an exact match to some ’90s R&B song that I can’t place, but it has me giggle and groove before it gets to the bridge, which I like. Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt, looking more lithe than the last time I saw him and donning a mustache, begins talking to the crowd. “Are you happy? I am happy, on the inside”. This would be a recurring statement throughout the night.

“Porcelain Heart” may have been the heaviest song of the night, ironically. I think it was after this that those people that were there only for the heavier songs started to make a ruckus. It reminded me of going to see Puscifer, and the Tool fans started yelling for their money back…not understanding that a Puscifer show does not equate to a Tool show.

The set continued with a lot of talking from Mikael, most memorable when he said he was “a modern man” and would allow a woman to buy him a drink. Ha! I know a lot of “modern men”. And then there was the weirdest moment of them all…

I had noticed a gigantic disco ball hidden above the stage. I thought it was part of the theater, since it is normally used as a club. At one point the disco ball started to fall, and the way that Mikael turned around and looked at it made me think that Opeth was about to experience death by disco ball….but it was actually part of the set! WTF….I was so confused.

The end of the set started to lose me…I ended up focusing on the parts- the phenomenal musicianship- instead of the sum of the set. Which is fine, but it wasn’t what I was craving.

Regardless, the majority of the crowd seemed to remain enraptured by Opeth, especially the girl in the teeny tiny dress that teeter tottered up to the stage at the end in hopes of getting noticed by the band.

My favorite part of the entire show happened next. Opeth is my friend’s favorite band, and she was front and center for the show. This was her first time seeing Opeth. I was worried that, with this sort of atypical set, it wasn’t going to be the best first experience. However, she loved it, and that was made even more special because my other friend somehow snagged a setlist for her while we weren’t looking. The relationship between someone and their favorite band is special, and when you’ve experienced how it feels to have a great show with your band, you get to experience it vicariously through others. And that’s almost as good.

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