Anathema have always had an eventful career, from their early days
when Darren White was replaced as vocalist by Vincent Cavanagh, to the
stylistic changes on _Eternity_ and finally the more commercial
leanings starting with _A Fine Day to Exit_. Perhaps that was part of
the reason why Anathema were always somehow much more important and meaningful to me than the sum of the ratings I've awarded their albums over the years; such changes were not always initially welcome.
Anathema have stood the test of time remarkably well however, and even
at a time when I rarely consider going to a gig, I hardly even
hesitated about seeing them for the third time.
With new album _Horizons_ on the, well, horizon and their latest
studio work _Hindsight_ and live release _Were You There?_ proving
able to rekindle my temporarily fading interest in the band, I was
cautiously looking forward to this gig. I had already seen them in
Manchester opening for Mayhem (yes, the "true" Mayhem) in 2000 and as
headliners at the Hard Club in Porto about a year later. The first had
been a memorable, albeit brief and limited performance, while the
second was much more polished but contrastingly less involved and
lacking the expected emotional impact. Tonight, they finally got it
all together and delivered an outstanding performance, one that ranks
among the finest ever gigs I've attended.
Starting with the only negative remark I intend to make, whoever
decided to use a promotional poster that prominently included drummer
John Douglas' sister Lee can really have no excuse for doing so other
than a dramatic last minute change of plans. Unfortunately Lee was
nowhere to be seen and did not add her fine voice to the show,
although with a performance of this magnitude, Anathema made sure
nobody really thought about it during the gig.
By the time I had got out of the suit that wears me during the day and
into an old Primordial shirt, home from work and back to Porto again,
I had already missed the first two(?) acts. First up (either that or
they didn't play) was Leafblade, an acoustic duo comprised of Sean
Jude and Danny Cavanagh, followed by local act Oblique Rain. I only
catched the latter's final song, which seemed quite competently
performed, though heavily infused with Opeth and Katatonia influences.
Anathema started things off nicely with "Deep", the opening track from
_Judgement_. They followed it up with a track I'm not particularly
fond of, "Closer" from _A Natural Disaster_, then "Pressure" from _A
Fine Day to Exit_ and "Far Away" from _Eternity_. At that point it had
been an enjoyable but not overwhelming gig, and it stayed that way as
the band mixed two interesting new songs with fine renditions of the
emotional "Inner Silence" from _Alternative 4_ and "Anyone, Anywhere"
from _Judgement_. Staying on that theme, they revisited those albums
for "Empty" and "Judgement", and by then the intensity level had risen
very noticeably. They played "Leave No Trace" from _A Fine Day to
Exit_, then lost control -- I mean "Lost Control" from _Alternative
This was when things went from "enjoyable but not overwhelming" to
enjoyable -and- overwhelming. The crowd sang along to "Lost Control"
with a vibrancy that promised a truly memorable second half for the
gig. Anathema wisely stayed with _Alternative 4_ to deliver "Regret",
then the uplifting "Hope" from _Eternity_ and the top notch guitar
work of "Flying" from _A Natural Disaster_. Overall, _Alternative 4_
would end up the most represented album with five songs, followed by
_Judgement_ with four -- which is fine by me.
The band then left lead guitarist Danny Cavanagh alone on stage. His
solo performance on "Are You There?" from _A Natural Disaster_ was
well and truly cherished by the crowd, who not only sang along but at
times could barely contain themselves as they broke into spontaneous
applause several times during the song. Danny was then replaced by his
brother Vincent for another solo performance (apart from the keyboard
player in the shadows), and it was time for "One Last Goodbye" from
An incredibly emotional song in its own right, tonight "One Last
Goodbye" seemed to transcend mere music. The soulful delivery alone
might have been enough to warrant such words, but then halfway through
a verse Vincent was practically forced to let the crowd -- who had
been singing along from the start -- take over the song entirely.
Maybe this happens on every gig they play and he always does the same
thing, or maybe not. But for those in attendance, the man standing
alone on stage seemed genuinely and deeply moved. At that point he
stopped singing and just turned his head to one side for a long time
while the audience sang as one to the keyboard notes; and as the song
ended, the audience too was moved to tears.
While there wasn't much any band could do after that, still Anathema
came up with the superb "Angelica" from _Eternity_ and their old
classic rocker "Sleepless" (originally from _Serenades_) to keep the
audience on their toes and feeling every note. They then played an
instrumental song before finishing the set with the excellent "Fragile
Dreams" from _Alternative 4_.
For well over two hours, Anathema proved once more what an immensely
talented lot they are, and this time they did so while eschewing any
superfluous rock star antics that had marred their previous
appearance. Their performance was no less than stellar on every level,
with vocals and lead guitar that truly shined throughout. Anathema are
no longer the youngsters they once were; they are a mature band these
days, and they proved it tonight. Any thoughts that they may be
getting closer to a decline in their career were well and truly swept
away tonight however, so here's hoping that they can transmit all this
into their next studio album -- their first batch of new songs in six
years -- and come up with something to rival even their classic
records of the '90s.
As an encore, Anathema surprisingly played a damn good cover of Nine
Inch Nails' "Hurt". One of the four tracks we had heard in the car on
our way to the gig had been none other than Johnny Cash covering that
same song. Now what are the odds of that?