Opeth make it hard on the elitists, cynics and complainers with their first live album, the two-disc The Roundhouse Tapes. As Opeth’s commercial appeal has grown, so has the disenchanted segment of the underground that resents the band’s progression, commercial success, or both. But captured in London in November of 2006, in the midst of the year and a half tour supporting Ghost Reveries–the band’s most polarizing album yet—Opeth doesn’t simply hammer out a set of usual suspects from the last trio of albums with a classic or two thrown in, but instead dusts off a bunch of vintage tracks from throughout their career. Regardless of your views on recent Opeth, it’s a damn near sure thing that most of these tracks were staples in your playlist at some point. This leaves the naysayers with nothing left to say (except, you know, “nay”) but to claim they’re just not interested in live albums. Their loss.
Over half of the nine-song, hour and a half concert comes from the band’s pre-Blackwater Park days, while there are only two entries from the post-BWP era (“Windowpane” and “Ghost of Perdition,” easily the strongest track on Ghost Reveries). The core of early numbers is absolutely mouth-watering, including classics like the tantalizing “Under the Weeping Moon” from 1995’s Orchid, the show opening and closing pair from My Arms, Your Hearse: “When” and the obligatory (but nevertheless crushing) finale, “Demon of the Fall,” and the biggest prize of all, a rare appearance of “Night and the Silent Water” from Morningrise. It’s a song that Akerfeldt himself is reportedly pretty lukewarm on, so it can be assumed that it, in particular, was picked as an attic-raiding reward for fans. Rounding out the set are Sill Life’s mellow “Face of Melinda,” and a pair of Blackwater Park songs, “Bleak” and the title track.
Opeth are known for delivering live, and at this point they’d been on the road for over a year and were plenty road worn and sharp. The band was relaxed and in good form, and their performances tight and clinically precise. As you’d expect, Opeth doesn’t mess much with the arrangements, and there’s very little fucking around and showmanship, but Akerfeldt’s deadpan, wise-ass humor between most songs is a welcome brief respite between the dynamic, marathon compositions.
With such long songs, it’s impossible to put together a setlist that will please everyone, but the band has done a good job here. I’d have rather heard something else from Still Life–Opeth’s material is varied and epic enough as it is without needing a couple of mellow tracks to balance the show, and given my choice I might have switched “Blackwater Park” with “The Leper Affinity,” but then, adding a live staple such as that wouldn’t have been within the spirit of the evening. A trade for something from the unrepresented Deliverance would have worked as well. But that’s all just personal taste and Monday morning quarterbacking. This is an excellent and fan-pleasing set, and it’s performed and recorded with the competence you’d expect. In fact, this collection of songs, the recording, and performance are all impressive enough to make The Roundhouse Tapes not only a winner for fans, but also serve as an effective introduction to the band for new listeners. Not many live albums fall into that category. Now let’s have that companion DVD, please.