Everything Ends
Opeth and Amplifier at the Hard Club, Gaia, Portugal on December 10, 2006
by: Pedro Azevedo
After nine years of memorable gigs, the Hard Club is shutting down. With its privileged riverside location in Gaia, across from Porto, and its atmospheric stone walls, it was bound to be a target for other types of business. More specifically, it will be converted into a luxury restaurant. Truth be told, it always seemed almost too good to be true in a number of ways, so I'm not surprised by this outcome. Mikael Akerfeldt would at one point during tonight's concert say that he wouldn't mind having a meal there, because he loves the place -- small wonder.

Tonight marked the second time I have seen Opeth in this venue, after their outstanding performance with Madder Mortem three years ago. Back then, I was lucky enough to catch them at what I consider to have been the top of their creative powers thus far, so to me this was more a farewell gig with one of my favourite bands than anything else. Whether Porto will ever have a comparable venue for metal gigs remains to be seen, but I doubt it.

With the tickets sold out a month before the gig, it wasn't hard to guess this farewell would see the Hard Club at its most packed. It still surprised me just how many people they decided to cram in there though.

I believe the Hard Club's limit is (was) 700 people, but it must have been near 1000 inside -- I am guessing here though. Of course in Portugal it tends to be easy to avoid fines for this type of situation, and even if you do get fined, you often still make a profit from the infringement. Regardless of whether the limit was exceeded or the limit itself was ridiculously high, it was simply far too crowded.

Unfortunately there are still promoters who think of the ticket paying audience as cattle, and assume that cattle doesn't really mind getting crammed together so tight they cannot move or see much of the stage. No matter the circumstances, so long as they can hear the band the ticket price will have been worth it, they figure. They figure wrong.

Anyway, I digress. Ten minutes before schedule, Manchester-based Amplifier opened the gig. Previously unknown to me, this trio seemed sorely misplaced opening for Opeth. Compared to Madder Mortem three years ago, it could get one wondering if this was the right gig: they played basically hard rock, and while it wasn't bad, it was hardly interesting for my ears or overly appropriate either. Make no mistake, these guys can play their instruments; it's just that the outcome of their efforts failed to elicit anything other than passing curiosity.

"Ghost of Perdition" from _Ghost Reveries_ marked a heavy-hitting start to Opeth's set -- and a rather hazardous one as well, with Akerfeldt breaking a string early on. It never happened again afterwards however, which prevented the frontman from fulfilling his promise to kill bassist Martin Mendez if it did. Welcomed by rapturous applause from the overcrowded room, Opeth were clearly pleased and Akerfeldt seemed in a good mood. Compared to three years back, he was extremely talkative, and his stage banter was funny and entertaining throughout. He even provoked the audience with his awareness of the rivalry between Porto and Lisbon.

The sound quality was very good, the usual standard for the venue, though perhaps not quite reaching the same level of excellence I remember from three years ago. Still, one can't complain much. It goes without saying, but Opeth's delivery was top notch; impeccable throughout, including new drummer Martin "Axe" Axenrot, and of course Mikael Akerfeldt's always impressive ease while delivering lead guitar, clean vocals and death growls of the highest quality. As has been the case lately, Opeth also featured now full-time keyboardist Per Wiberg in the background.

Akerfeldt then announced "When" from _My Arms, Your Hearse_, and it's pretty hard to pick a weak track from that classic. After that welcome oldie came "Bleak" from _Blackwater Park_, another album where you can hardly find a bad song to play live. This was the first of two tracks they repeated from their previous gig three years ago.

From _Still Life_ Opeth chose to deliver "Face of Melinda", before delighting the audience with some of "The Drapery Falls" from _Blackwater Park_, which they had played in their entirety in the previous gig. The crowd had already showed a disposition to sing along on some of the clean vocal parts, and Akerfeldt said they'd only play that song if it was the audience who did the singing. Sing they did; they sang the entire clean vocal sequence completely on their own, to Akerfeldt's evident satisfaction. Too bad that in order to achieve that effect with the crowd the band neglected to play the instrumental passage that should open and close the composition, which I find quite brilliant and the high point of this great song.

It was time for the only real surprise of the set, and the song that turned out to be the most enjoyable for me: "The Night and the Silent Water" from second album _Morningrise_, which Akerfeldt introduced as "melodic doom/death", which is "slow death metal with some melodies" (someone gave a raspy scream in reply, to which Akerfeldt quipped "no, that's black metal"). The track was delightful throughout, with the middle section and second half in particular providing some really emotional minutes and ranking among my best gig memories.

Akerfeldt continued to take center stage with a rant where he bashed nu-metal and anyone who has found nu-metal elements in their music, before saying that the song they were going to play next was the one song people were more likely to hate them for -- but only if they were either mad or deaf: "The Grand Conjuration", from _Ghost Reveries_. I don't hate them for it, but I still found it the weakest track on the setlist.

The tranquil "Windowpane" from _Damnation_ then followed, with Akerfeldt later achieving some hilarious moments when he got the whole room to headbang and mosh to... nothing at all, complete silence! They closed the set with "Blackwater Park", before coming back for the encore.

They teased the audience with one song, then Akerfeldt spoke about Camel and King Crimson, started "Smoke on the Water", challenged Axenrot to do some drumming, then had Axenrot and Mendez covering a Michael Jackson tune to roaring laughter. Finally, the second and last song they repeated from their other performance: "Deliverance". My hopes that "Demon of the Fall" would be my last memory for this venue were unfortunately destroyed, but this replacement ending wasn't too bad.

Everything must end, and so has the Hard Club. Regardless of rumours that it will reopen in a different location, it will never be the same. Too bad it ended under such needlessly infuriating circumstances, but at least Opeth were there to ease the passing.

(article submitted 26/12/2006)

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