Thursday, 17th February 2011
The Scala, London, UK
Article and photos By Tom de Val
Since I first saw Anathema live back in 1999 on the Judgement tour I’ve seen them around a dozen times, and no matter what the context (playing a heavy metal festival,
supporting Porcupine Tree, appearing acoustic with orchestra or in their own headline slots) they’ve always been a thoroughly excellent live band.
Having seen their stellar album launch show for We’re Here Because We’re Here last year at the Islington Academy,
I had doubts they could top that despite reading some of the rave reviews from the rest of their current UK tour; thankfully I was proved wrong, as this was possibly the best show I’ve seen them play.
The Scala, a converted cinema near King’s Cross Station,
is a venue I quite like in terms of atmosphere but actively dislike in terms of sound – I’ve seen many a gig here that’s been pretty much ruined by the muddy acoustics.
Whilst neither band entirely escape this phenomenom – sometimes the guitars seemed rather low in the mix,
for example – the sound was far better than I thought it would be, and in any case the atmosphere created during Anathema’s set was easily enough to make up for any sonic shortfalls.
First up, however, are North Atlantic Oscillation, a three-piece (four, in the live arena) from Scotland who share a label home with Anathema, namely Kscope.
Playing tracks from their debut album Grappling Hooks, the band blend elements of electronica and pure pop in to their atmospheric, melodic post-prog.
Some of the songs (such as Hollywood Endingi> and Ceiling Poem) have definite hooks,
whilst others (such as the closing Ritual) are more slow-burning efforts which gradually built towards a powerful climax.
The band need to work on their stage presence – at times they almost seem embarrassed to be there – but overall this was an enjoyable set.
From the moment Anathema appear on stage, all smiles and fists in the air, to a roar of approval from the sold-out crowd, I knew this would be a good gig.
Anathema are great even when they don’t seem particularly happy on stage (which has been a few times…) but when they’re really up for it, magic often happens.
First up is a full run-through of current album We’re Here Because We’re Here, and no-one is complaining about that, given the excellent reception it has received since its release.
The album flows brilliantly, and lends itself to being played straight through in a live environment.
As on the album, female vocalist Lee Douglas adds emotive backing vocals on a number of songs, complementing lead vocalist Vincent Cavanagh’s powerful voice perfectly.
Highlights for me are the pulsating opener Thin Air, album stand-out A Simple Mistake, and the instrumental post-rock of closer Hindsight, though in truth everything works a treat.
Following this first set, the familiar opening chords of Deep bring a huge cheer,
as the band play this and the following three tracks that make up the opening suite of songs on 1999’s superb Judgement album.
Pitiless, with its crunching power chords and intense chorus, is a particular highlight.
Following this, and from the same album, is one of the band’s most popular and passionate songs, the paean to the Cavanagh’s late mother that is One Last Goodbye.
For large chunks of the song Vincent Cavanagh doesn’t even sing, but hands the vocal duties over to the crowd who respond with gusto – the band are visibly moved by their efforts.
At this point, guitarist Danny Cavanagh admits that the setlist has ‘gone out of the window’, with the band playing what they want to play from their back catalogue.
The corrosive Empty, from their breakthrough Alternative 4 platter, gets heads and bodies moving, whilst its great to hear the slow-burning Release,
a highlight from 2001’s A Fine Day To Exit.
On to A Natural Disaster, and we get the hypnotic Flying. Often a set closer,
due to its ending in a explosion of feedback which allows the band to troop off one by one as the sound reverberates through the speakers,
this time Danny remains on stage. He announces that he’d usually play vAre You There?, but this time feels like doing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.
Of course, this is no problem for the crowd, who need little encouragement from Danny to once again take up the vocals. On returning to the stage,
Vincent sarcastically remarked that Danny had not really helped the band get rid of the ‘next Pink Floyd’ tag they’d been saddled with for the last few years!
The full band are back for the electronica-influenced Closer, with Vincent Cavanagh singing through a vocoder, before a run-through of the emotive,
bluesy title track from A Natural Disaster, which is sung by Lee Douglas, who does a stellar job as always.
No surprise as to the final track, with the introductory chords from Fragile Dreams already getting fans jumping before the lead riff comes crashing in.
The curfew of 11 had been reached, but fans kept clapping and cheering for at least another ten minutes, with the band occasionally seeming to be about to come on,
but ultimately I guess a curfew is a curfew, and that was it. Not that anyone could really complain.
Two hours had flown by, and if there’s a better gig this year it will have to be very special indeed to top this.
Let’s just hope there isn’t another seven year wait between albums…
Angels Walk Among Us
A Simple Mistake
Get Off, Get Out
Destiny Is Dead
One Last Goodbye
Wish You Were Here (Danny Cavanagh solo – Pink Floyd cover)
A Natural Disaster
Aanathema Official Website