Katatonia @ Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA 05/15/13

088Jonas Renkse is a difficult man to photograph. For the entirety of Katatonia’s set Wednesday night at Wooly’s, the singer kept his face deliberately obscured behind a mass of hair; as if not wanting to face the crowd. But his jovial between-song demeanor and powerful performance spoke otherwise; his exquisite vocals the undeniable focal point of the Swedish quartet’s excellent hour long set opening for prog metal grand poobahs Opeth. In some ways, Herr Renkse’s locks could be a metaphor for Katatonia’s music; their underlying metal-ness often obscured by heaps of beautifully dark, multi-textured melancholia.

This was my second time seeing Katatonia open for Opeth; they stole the show back in 2011, and this show was no different; whereas Opeth’s more mellow material, which they’ve been favoring of late in concert, tends to meander, Katatonia keep your attention with shorter, catchier songs that balance almost impenetrable gloom with a surprising heaviness that recalls their early days as doom/death sorcerers. They’ve long since left those more extreme sounds behind, but their music hasn’t lost any of the oppressive gravitas. In the live arena, Katatonia’s music takes on a heft that isn’t always apparent on more recent albums, making their trademark despondence that much more affecting.

The band’s set favored their last four albums exclusively, and while I would’ve loved to hear them reach back to Tonight’s Decision or Discouraged Ones, I love their recent material just as much, and it was a pleasure hearing personal favorites such as “July,” “My Twin” and “Burn the Rememberance,” as well as the strongest tracks from their most recent album, last year’s Dead End Kings, namely the absolutely stunning “The Racing Heart.” I’ve already made it quite obvious that Katatonia’s biggest selling point for me is Mr. Renkse’s impassioned vocal work, but the entire band is tight as a drum, rendering each track with an energy and urgency that one might not expect from a band known for lyrics involving “depression, death, suicide, crime” (so says Metal Archives!).

In spite of the fact that Katatonia played for a solid sixty minutes, their allotted time was over before I knew it. It was kind of a drag to see them leave the stage after what felt like the blink of an eye, but in retrospect I walked away more than satisfied after getting to witness this very special band, a band I never thought I’d ever get to see even once just a few years ago, for the second time. When I interviewed bassist Nille Sandin before the tour got underway, the four-stringer expressed a genuine enthusiasm for playing live, and on Wednesday night it was obvious that his bandmates felt the same; that enthusiasm pouring out of them and manifesting itself in the form of an immensely enjoyable set.

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Opeth / Katatonia remaining tour dates:
5/17 – Lincoln, Neb. – Bourbon Theatre
5/18 – Tulsa, Okla. – Cain’s Ballroom
5/20 – Boulder, Colo. – Fox Theatre
5/21 – Boulder, Colo. – Fox Theatre
5/22 – Farmington, New Mexico – Top Deck (Katatonia headlining show)
5/23 – Tucson, Ariz. – Rialto Theatre
5/24 – Los Angeles, Calif. – The Roxy
5/25 – Agoura Hills, Calif. – The Canyon Club
5/26 – Santa Cruz, Calif. – The Catalyst
5/27 – Los Angeles, Calif. – The Roxy (Katatonia headlining show)
http://katatonia.com/

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