Opeth/Enslaved @ Starland Ballroom & Grand Ballroom

SAYREVILLE, NJ & NYC—Two dates on the same tour, separated by almost a month, with the tour beginning and ending roughly the same place it started.

Why aren’t more tours like this? Well, at least ones I’d like to attend.

The separation of NY/NJ area dates for the Opeth/Enslaved tour was a strange but interesting experience. Do I go to both? Just one? As both bands had albums on my Top Ten lists last year, it really seemed only fitting that I show up to support. And it’s been well documented that I’ll travel about two or three hours to get to an Opeth show, so what’s two in my half-hour radius?

As I expected, both shows had roughly the same setlist, and both were sold out. The two bands were spot-on, despite rumors of Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjornson taking a little sick halfway through the tour. And at both shows, I missed the first two Enslaved songs.

How did this happen? Garden State Parkway traffic and some coordination of passes prevented me from getting to the Starland Ballroom right on time, and while I could hear “Fusion Of Sense And Earth” on line, the song had passed by the time I got in. A brief miscalculation in the city (Here’s some advice: Seven New York City floors is a lot more steps than it sounds, so don’t take the stairs.) delayed my arrival at the Grand Ballroom as well. Irritating, because Enslaved I’d only seen twice before, and Opeth, well, closer to seven times. I’m not exactly sure, but it’s at a fan boy level.

Enslaved played a decent smattering of old and new material, highlights included “Isa” off the album of the same name and “The Watcher” from last year’s Vertebrae. I don’t believe they played “Ground” at either performance (again, showed up late), but it couldn’t have hurt if they did. Frontman Grutle Kjellson chided the Starland Ballroom audience for no one showing up the last time they played Jersey.

Agreed. We should have been there.

Opeth’s set was expectable, at the very least. As it was probably the third and fourth time I’d seen them on the Watershed tour cycle, I had become accustomed to the new material live. “Hessian Peel,” “The Locust Eaters” and “Heir Apparent” (I believe) made appearances and were all played with grace. However, it was some of their older songs that started to sag, like “Night And The Silent Water.” As a both a fan and critic, I’ve got to say, “Closure” needs to come out of the set. It’s a great extended jam and was a surprise fan favorite, particularly from the Lamentations DVD performance, but it’s obvious the band is tired of playing it and the audience is tired of hearing it. It’s original oriental flavor has become muddied over the years. The Grand Ballroom show basically lost all its energy following it. Why not play “Burden?” It’s perhaps the best track on Watershed, it satisfies your “one or two light songs” requirements for the set, and you don’t have to resort to playing “Harvest,” “Closure” or “In My Time Of Need.” And there’s a kickass keyboard solo!

And speaking of solos, I’m glad that guitarist Fredrik Akesson has integrated himself into the band nicely and finally feels comfortable enough to do some unaccompanied guitar solos, but that doesn’t mean he has to do them. Have fun, I encourage it, but I didn’t think it was particularly cool.

“Oh, old school Opeth fan wants things to be like they were where the band didn’t do rockstar guitar solos for the fuck of it.” Yeah, actually. Bite me.

But there are far worse ways to spend an evening. Again, both rooms were sold out and for a very good reason: The players are fantastic and the songwriting is stellar. While I may be tired of seeing Opeth so often (Oh, what a burden! Speaking of, play that song next time around, damnit.), they certainly deserved every second of the applause received at both shows.

Now for the venues themselves. I will say that Grand Ballroom (a venue above Hammerstein Ballroom I hadn’t yet been at) was the superior show, due to the much bigger stage and viewing area. It didn’t matter where you were, you could always find a spot to see the stage, and it was much, much easier to move around. The bigger room allowed for more spectacular lighting, and while the floor seemed to be giving a little during some heavy sections (yikes), everyone made it out okay. The venue’s main problem is it’s seven stories up, and all the ATMs are on the first floor. What the fuck? By comparison, there was no good angle at Starland Ballroom unless you felt like being in the human sardine can that was the floor. By the time Opeth went on, I retreated to the vacant “VIP” area where the PA system pipes in independently so the sound didn’t lose it’s mids and highs like it tends to do on the wings. No one was in there. Perfect sound, empty bar, only trouble was, you couldn’t see the stage. Oh well.

Go write another record guys. I need about 18 months off from you. By the time you come back, I’ll be salivating again. And Enslaved, I’ll show up early next time. Promise.