When the news came out about this show, heavy metal fans rejoiced. This is the kind of lineup we can only dream about, especially since all these bands are outstanding live. When I found out this show wasn't coming to Utah, I was disappointed, but I quickly made a call to my in-laws who live in Denver and made plans for a family road trip and visit. I had a few days off from work that week and couldn't think of anything better than seeing three amazing bands together on one night.
I need to begin my review of this show by saying that the Fillmore Auditorium is now one of my favorite venues. The sound there is terrific. For years and years, I've seen far too many shows that sound muddy or that don't bring out enough of the guitar, the vocal, or the bass. The sound at the Fillmore was consistently strong. I highly recommend that readers check out a show at the Fillmore if they have the chance.
The evening began with a set from Ghost, a mysterious act out of Sweden that is made up of lead singer Papa Emeritus and several nameless ghouls who make up the rest of the band. Most readers are probably familiar with Ghost's debut album, Opus Eponymous, if only by its ever-growing reputation. The music takes on the sound and mood of something of a long-lost Blue Oyster Cult album, but with a heavy dose of explicitly satanic lyrics. The result is a slightly over-the-top, probably tongue-in-cheek approach to music that is nevertheless catchy and fun. On stage, Ghost brings out a great deal of theatricality that most of their fans should experience at least once. I was especially impressed with the way Papa Emeritus never broke from his character as a type of evil Pope who uses music to present his message. It would be all-too-easy to cry out little more than the familiar clichés of a rock show--"how's everybody doing tonight," "you guys are the best," or "let's see those horns," but these guys play as though they are on a different kind of stage, one usually reserved for religious purposes. Papa Emeritus entered the stage much like a religious leader would, blessing the audience, sending out sacred smoke, and addressing fans reverently. In some ways, watching Ghost is little more than wondering what Papa will do or say. The overall effect of the music and the show, however, is entertaining and exciting. Ghost played a relatively short set, but all the songs sounded great--I was especially impressed with the way the band used the lighting for their set. These guys don't have an expensive set of pyrotechnics; instead, they use light and sound more subtly, usually to highlight Papa Emeritus's creepy skeleton-like face paint. The effect was like watching a B-grade horror movie with a bunch of friends that turns out to be a pretty good experience.
When Mastodon came on stage, I was about as excited as I could be. I've seen Mastodon before, but I was excited to see them again. I wasn't disappointed. They played a large number of songs from The Hunter, their latest album and didn't draw on their back-catalogue as much as I'd hoped, but what they played sounded strong and confident. I've read other reviews of their set and have found them to be somewhat lukewarm. One review suggested that Mastodon looked bored and that they aren't playing live as well as they once did. Other people complain that they don't talk to the audience very much. Although they aren't the chattiest band on stage, I did not find their sound to be anything less than solid; the band seemed very excited to be performing and played their set with lots of energy. I think the main problem with their set in general is that it opened and ended with slightly faster songs than the middle of the set. Mastodon doesn't play ballads or anything like that, but some of their songs are a little less driven than, say, "Blood and Thunder." I can see how some attendees may have wondered if Mastodon has lots their touch, but audiences shouldn't grow impatient once the energy slows down. Slower songs aren't always part of a set so that fans can go to the bathroom or buy a drink. Mastodon has demonstrated on their albums that they are capable of a range of musical moods. I, for one, wanted to hear each of them and I wasn't disappointed. For me, the highlight of the set was "Blood and Thunder," one of my favorite songs and one that they played with vigor. I always enjoy watching the audience mosh or jump during that song.
Opeth is one of those bands that sounds slightly better on stage than they do on their recordings. Their set was made up mostly of tracks from their latest album Heritage, a work that is a rather dramatic departure from their death metal roots. I could tell that some fans were disappointed with the lack of variety. When each new song began, the fans would simultaneously cheer and groan. Opeth, of course, has always flirted with a variety of hard and soft sounds, but with their latest album, fans are quickly getting the sense that Mikael Akerfeldt and the rest of the band are leaving death metal behind them. At times, Akerfeldt even joked with the audience that they were playing all their new songs even though they knew that audiences came out to hear the heavier stuff. He apologized, again jokingly, about force-feeding us all the new stuff. I honestly thought that Opeth sounded great and that the new material was superb. My favorite song that night was "Slither," a song that Akerfeldt dedicated to the late Ronnie James Dio. At the end of their set, Opeth finally turned to two classic songs--"Demon of the Fall" and "The Grand Conjuration." I was thrilled to hear the latter song, especially since, to me, it captures the strength of Opeth's sound as a whole. Nevertheless, Opeth's set was far too short. Sure, most of their songs are long, but by the time they played the last two songs, fans were chanting loudly for more. Akerfeldt apologized and told the audience that he doesn't make the rules. He should have broken a few more of them, though, and played more.