Anathema, Ship of Fools, Friday 29th November 2002
Mean Fiddler, London, UK

By Charlie Farrell


Merseyside doomy proggers play quick UK Tour

Almost a year has passed since the last series of dates by Anathema in the UK, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them announce a couple of low-key dates, of which the London one was the first. The band have been quiet since the release of 2001's A Fine Day To Exit, but it would appear that the band members have been investing time in their own projects.

One of these is the second of the two support bands Ship of Fools, who were an outfit started by Anathema keyboard player Les Smith in the first half of the 1990's and which pre-date his time with the Black Metal band Cradle of Filth and who dis-banded after his departure. Having re-mastered the band's various demos for a retrospective release on the UK's Peaceville Records, Les decided that it would be nice to play the music live once again and assembled a 6 piece band consisting of drums, bass, two keyboard players including himself and two guitar players, including Anathema's guitarist Danny Cavanagh.

In contrast with much of Anathema's music and certainly in stark contrast to that of Cradle of Filth, the music of Ship of Fools is quite progressive, incorporating the sounds of an early Pink Floyd with some 90s Dance/techno samples in a similar way to Ozric Tentacles or Porcupine Tree and some of Steven Wilson's solo projects. Of these band's I would most liken them to Signify era Porcupine Tree. The band played a 30 minute set incorporating vocals and spoken samples on a backing tape and while visually there was little that was remarkable about them, the music was sufficiently interesting and engaging for me to want to check out their disk. Whilst the music was unlikely to be typical listening for much of the audience, the hall remained full and the applause from the crowd at the end of the set was warm and appreciative.

With a tight schedule, the changeover time was a mere 15 minutes, but the fact that much of the equipment was shared by the bands meant that this was no problem and Anathema went on stage, as scheduled, at 9PM. The setlist was very much centered on the material from the A Fine Day To Exit album, with 8 of the albums 9 tracks being performed. One sensed that many present in the audience would have loved to have heard more of the older material, but the band, never ones to compromise, handled the situation very well and sandwiched a few older 'classic's in between longer tranches of the newer material. The set began with perhaps the two best known tracks from A Fine Day To Exit in the form of Release and Pressure which are well known and energetic enough to make for a powerful start to the set. The sound was a little more 'raw' than on CD, particularly in terms of Danny Cavanagh's guitar sound, but not so much so that it detracted from the music.

This was followed by Underworld, "Another one we couldn't play the last time we were here", as frontman Vinnie Cavanagh explained. They then played a couple of tunes from the marvellous Judgement album in the form of the melancholic Forgotten Hopes and the brief instrumental Destiny is Dead. Popular tunes indeed, but not quite as popular as the next tune, Angelica from the Eternity album which Vinnie dedicated to some friends who have travelled from Birmingham for the concert. The crowd simply exploded with joy as Vinnie sang the first line of lyrics and the tune remains one of the most beautiful and melodic the band have produced.

The setlist then moved back to the A Fine day To Exit material with only the title track of Judgement dividing up a further 5 tunes from the disk and acting as a neat bridge between the melancholic and reflective Leave No Trace and the frantic energy of Panic. The albums two final cuts A Fine Day to Exit and Temporary Peace have always left me with a sense of something unfinished, so it was convenient that they did not indicate the end of the set and merely allowed the band to move swiftly into another hugely popular number Fragile Dreams. A mournful, angry, emotive number it makes for another highpoint in the set and clearly delights the audience.

The final part of the set is sensational as the band stay with the Alternative IV album for Inner Silence then move to Judgement for the aptly titled One Last Goodbye, in which the lyrics speak of a lover realizing that a relationship is coming to an end. Judgement's closing instrumental track 2000 and Gone brings the set to a close and the band reluctantly leave the stage.

There is no time left for an encore explains Jamie Cavanagh (bassist and the third of the brothers in the band) and despite warm applause from the crowd the venue's strict curfew means that the lights come up and the security staff are soon shuffling the crowd outside. It was an excellent performance with the older tunes definitely proving to be the most popular with the audience. However, with that being said, the newer material does sound much better when performed live, even if it sounds less progressive and more 'post-rock' than the preceding couple of disks. The band's audience nevertheless remains loyal, but it remains to be seen where the band's direction will take them next.

Setlist:

Release
Pressure
Underworld
Forgotten Hopes
Destiny is dead
Angelica
Looking Outside Inside
Leave No Trace
Judgement
Panic
A Fine Day To Exit
Temporary Peace
Fragile Dreams
Inner Silence
One Last Goodbye
2000 & Gone (slightly improvised)

 

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2002 DPRP