Halloween Never Felt So Boring!

Wednesday November 2, 2005

Defying the odds, I appear now before you offering tidings of stultifying dullness and senseless repetition. Could it be anything other than the Into Eternity/Nevermore/Opeth show at the TLA (which stands for Theater of Living Arts, but which I've lately taken to pronouncing phonetically) to which I referred in my last post? Why did I go to this show again? Can someone remind me? The last time I saw Into Eternity (not long ago, I should say - they've been touring more or less all year), guitarist Tim Roth promised that he would put me on the guest list. Both he and Century Media publicist Heather Smith (who was rightly impressed by the Coroner shirt I was wearing at the time) seemed shocked and amazed that I paid to get into the show. Hence the promise of a much-deserved guest-listing. But if there is one thing I've learned in all my years of mooching off record labels, it is this : don't count on the guest list. I bought tickets for Nancy and me, and thank god I did, because of course when I presented myself to the drone at the ticket window, I was told that there was no Matt Johnsen +1 on Into Eternity's guest list. Shocking. I had promised the free ticket to my friend Gary, who was already in the city at that point, but he didn't seem too upset about missing the show. Little did I know how right he was! Actually, I had a pretty good idea, even then, but I tried not to think about it. Full-price tickets in hand, Nancy and I plunged into the belly of the TLA.

The TLA is a nice venue in a lot of ways. It was an actual theater at some point in the past; my mom could tell me tales to that effect, if I cared to ask. The sound and lights are good, and the stage is wide and more than adequately tall, making it easy to see the bands from any vantage. An added aid to the good line-of-sight is the slope of the floor (like in a theater - see how it's all coming together?), but the slight grade and hard concrete of the floor is punishment on the soles. Standing for one band gets to be fairly uncomfortable, so standing for three amounts to torture. (This is what they call foreshadowing.) But having just gotten there, my feet were not yet complaining, so we moved pretty close to the stage for Into Eternity. This was the band I was most excited to see - they're a fantastic group, and they put on a good show. But christ, is it too much to ask for them to play a few different songs? I've seen them maybe five times, and every setlist has more or less been a subset of these songs : "Splintered Visions," "Embraced by Desolation," "Beginning of the End," "Point of Uncertainty," "Spiraling Into Depression," and "Isolation" from their latest album, Buried in Oblivion, and "Absolution of the Soul" from their second album, Dead or Dreaming. I do understand the point of promoting your newest album, but for fuck's sake! Dead or Dreaming is a great album that's readily available in the US (unlike their self titled debut, from which it would still be nice to occasionally hear a song). And on top of the clockwork predictability of the setlist, these guys have not, in five tours of the US, produced a shirt that was not just a giant print of the Buried in Oblivion cover. How can I support one of my favorite bands if they refuse to offer attractive merchandise? As for the show, it was great anyway. It was the first night for Into Eternity, who joined the Opeth/Nevermore bill midway through that tour. Singer Stew sounded very good, and although his pitch is still a bit shaky, he makes up for it onstage with heaps of cheesy charisma. I just hope he can perform to the band's high standards in the studio. Later in the evening, I tried to track down Tim to give him a hard time about the guest list, and I was just behind him in a press of people heading to the lobby after Nevermore, but I couldn't catch him before he left the venue (which I couldn't do). I saw him later watching the Opeth show from backstage, and I never managed to talk to him. Oh well.

I always think of Nevermore as a great live band, and maybe they are, but like Into Eternity, their setlists have always been predictable. They tend to play mostly songs from their new album, which is fine when you've only got two discs, or when your new album is good. But Nevermore have six albums now, and their best is three albums ago, not that you'd even know they had more than three albums, as their setlist on Halloween included only one song from Dead Heart in a Dead World (the excellent "River Dragon," easily the best song on that very overrated album), two songs from Enemies of Reality (the dull "Never Purify," and the title track, on which more later), and then a bunch of tracks from the disappointing new album, This Godless Endeavor. Nevermore are catching on with a younger crowd, and I'm happy for their well-deserved success, but their setlists for the last two or three tours have conveyed the following subtext: "Hey, all you long-time fans who bought our albums and came to our shows when nobody knew who we were - thanks and fuck off!" Warrell Dane is still a good frontman (if not the world's best singer), and it's always worth the trip to see Van Williams play drums. This guy is ridiculously good, one of the absolute best players in metal right now. Main guitarist Jeff Loomis is also an impressive talent, and I like his lead style, but his riffs just keep getting simpler and lamer. That seven string guitar has been very bad for him. The guy that really pisses me off, though, is new guitarist Steve Smyth. He's a bit of a band whore (having spent some unimpressive time in Vicious Rumors and Testament), and he's not even that good. When Chris Broderick of Jag Panzer filled in the second guitar slot for Nevermore last year, at least he had the skills to play the harmony to the awesome second solo in "Enemies of Reality," but not Smyth, whose only tangible contributions to Nevermore so far have been a couple of boring songs on the new album, and a silly looking guitar. The band's set was remarkably short, under 45 minutes I believe, which surprised me. I assumed it would be more of a co-headlining affair than it turned out to be. The first time Opeth toured the states, it was opening for Nevermore, who gave them at least a forty-five minute set, and this was years ago, before Opeth were the underground juggernaut they are now. Ingrates.

And as for Opeth - Jesus, is there a more boring live band? (The answer is "yes," but that doesn't change the fact that Opeth are indeed quite dull onstage.) I kinda like Opeth when I listen to their discs. I appreciate the originality of their music and the impressive skill evident in their craft, but when you get down to it, Mikael Åkerfeldt just can't write a good song. Back in the day, Opeth never repeated parts in a song, so once a part was over, it was over, never to be heard again. In that context, I can almost understand why you'd play your riff 16 times in a row. It's a good riff, and you're gonna miss it when it's gone, so best to make the most of the brief time you have together. But lately, Åkerfeldt has started trying on some more conventional song-structures for size, going so far as to arrange his material with actual verses and choruses. Yet despite this development, he still insists on running every riff into the ground, every time he trots it out. If you ever hear the song "The Grand Conjuration" from the new album Ghost Reveries, you'll know exactly what I mean. They'll wheel out a pretty cool riff, and you'll start grooving on it, thinking, "This is a pretty cool riff!" but after a minute or so, you'll be thinking, "Fucking hell! Put this riff to BED already!" And the whole set was like that! Opeth, to their credit, do seem to change up their setlist pretty dramatically from tour to tour, but when every song sounds exactly like every other song, the variety in titles doesn't do much to alleviate the boredom.

Nancy and I would have gladly left after a couple songs, but we were giving our friend Roman a ride back to his car at the train station, and Roman loves Opeth, so we stuck it out for his benefit. He seemed to enjoy the show. Nancy and I were dying, however. Opeth played for nearly two hours, so by the time they finished, I felt like someone had spent the last four hours hitting my feet with hammers. It never felt so good to get out of a concert as it did on Halloween, let me tell you.

I'd like to say that I've learned some valuable lessons from this show (namely, stop going to Nevermore and Opeth shows), but I doubt that I have. I'm a glutton for punishment, and I'm sure this is not the first time I've vowed never to see Opeth again. In fact, I know it's not. But the only thing that jogs my memory on this matter is, unfortunately, seeing another Opeth show. So it goes, so it goes. What would I write about if I only went to shows I really wanted to see?

Posted by Matt at November 2, 2005 11:45 AM


I suspected as much regarding Nevermore.

I2E seems to be a classic 90s era CM situation, and will get their audience at some point in the year 2929

Opeth I still haven't seen in concert, but I think I agree with you.

Posted by: BenMech at November 2, 2005 12:41 PM

The TLA should put in a balcony with seats for us oldtimers. And a bar. Have you ever moshed at the TLA? I don't think I've ever seen it. Maybe they should just put in seats! Maybe they should just put in a live video stream so we can watch these concerts from the comfort of our own homes. I mean, do you ever interact with the crowd? Not often! 1.) Ogle hot metal babe from afar for a while. 2.) Approach hot metal babe: "Hey, baby, are you impressed by my vintage Carcass/Sodom/Obscure-Old-School-Metal t-shirt? Oh, you're with that guy." 3. [Insert inexplicable boyfriend here.]

Posted by: tWaMo at November 2, 2005 02:40 PM

The TLA does have a bar upstairs, and some seats, but they're hard to come by unless you get there really early. And the bar upstairs does have a TV monitor showing the action on the stage. I have interacted with the audience insofar as I have been down in the front, yelling with everyone else, but moshing is indeed rare at the TLA, if only because it's not all that often that metal bands play there. I have been to two shows at the TLA where they did actually install seats on the floor. One show was Allan Holdsworth, the other was Liquid Tension Experiment. Both crowds were old and proggy and square, hence the seats. I guess the TLA rented them. It was comfy, yes, but there is a certain feeling of accomplishment that goes along with suffering through stand-up show. At least, that's what I tell myself after the suffering is over.

Posted by: Matt Johnsen at November 2, 2005 02:57 PM

many sincere thanks for bearing the "Opeth Cross" for my benefit. 2 more shows like this, and we'll be even for the louder, harder, faster festival!

Posted by: roman at November 3, 2005 02:30 PM

I got half-guest-listed once at TLA - 3 gave me a pass but then TLA demanded that I also buy a ticket...the box office dude finally let me in free just to get rid of me.

Stew makes the funniest faces on stage. I think they played exactly the same set list all three times I saw them this year.

It is hard to find stuff to write about only seeing good shows (or the same band 25 times), but at least I feel like it was money well spent.

Posted by: Sarah at November 6, 2005 07:49 PM

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