Sunset of Age Is Still Far Away
Anathema, Oblique Rain and Leafblade
at Teatro Sá da Bandeira, Porto, Portugal on May 6th, 2009

by: Pedro Azevedo
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 4_.

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 _Judgement_.

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?

(article submitted 29/5/2009)


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