Featuring a bill put together by Tim Bowness' label Burning Shed, this promised to be an intriguing evening of music. The venue, Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush, London, is a nice one, and ideal for these sort of 'multi artist' showcases; it's a refurbished victorian-era hall, complete with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and generally pretty good acoustics. Its all-seated too; normally I prefer to stand at gigs, but for this sort of event seating made perfect sense. Given the varied discography of many of those involved tonight it was no surprise there were several well-known musicians in the audience tonight, including Steve Hogarth and (apparently) Steven Wilson.
The opening act was Markus Reuter, apparently a 'renowned touch guitarist' who plays for one of the bands Tim Bowness is involved with, Centrozoon. Essentially this set involved Reuter widdling around on said guitar, sometimes to a programmed back-beat - OK as background music to getting some drinks in, I guess.
Next up was Richard Barbieri. Undoubtedly best known these days as keyboardist for Porcupine Tree, his musical history goes way back to the seventies when he was in the pioneering art-rock band Japan, and he has also played with a myriad of other bands and projects. Surprisingly, he has only recently released his first solo album, Things Buried, and his solo set was predominantly made up of tracks from this. Barbieri made reference to the fact that he was a little nervous, given that he didn't have the security of a band around him, but he needn't have worried, as his playing was exemplorary. Its not that exciting watching someone twiddle knobs and dials for 45 minutes however, so it was clear Barbieri would have to rely on the quality of the material. This was generally quite high; the music played here is not particularly reminiscent of his current band, being what could be loosely described as dark, ambient techno (Barbieri made reference to the fact that this music was far harder than he was used to playing in the past), although showing more texture and variety than that description perhaps allows. Flaw had definite echoes of Japan's classic Ghosts, whilst Fear & Trembling was an impressive piece which had something of a symphonic sweep. Barbieri however saved the best for last with an excellent semi improvised track which, as he correctly introduced, really did 'start with a whimper and end with a bang'! Hopefully he's memorised enough of this to get the track down on tape at some point!
A complete change of mood next, with singer Tim Bowness taking the stage. I've seen him a couple of times previously, but only in acoustic guise; here he had a full 5 piece backing band. Bowness has an extensive back catalogue of work with various groups and collaborations such as Henry Fool, Samuel Smiles and Centrozoon, although he's no doubt best known for his work with Steven Wilson under the No Man monicker. Here however Bowness' main task was to plug his recent solo CD My Hotel Year, with the majority of the tracks aired tonight being from said opus. This unfortunately proved (in my opinion) to be his undoing, as (the sprightly Last Year's Tattoo aside) the new tracks came across as rather dirge-like and uninspired. This was surprising as many of Bowness' obvious influences (The Blue Nile, David Sylvian, latter-day Talk Talk) are amongst some of my favourite artists. Bowness certainly has an expressive voice, but this couldn't save many of these tracks from simply floating in one ear and out of the other. Bowness fared better when he moved on to other material; Days Pass Like Years, from his California, Norfolk CD, was sparse and haunting, whilst the closing track, a re-arrangement of No Man's Together We're Stranger, was quite beautiful, an atmospheric piano-led piece which ended with some superb (and strangely eerie) vocal harmonics. A great end to an otherwise rather disappointing (and oddly low-key) set.
The stage was therefore set for Anathema to fairly effortlessly take the honours as best act. Despite being relatively late additions to the bill, its apparent that many are here just to see them - although there are still some who leave the gig at this point to chat in the bar - symptamatic of the apathy that exists, certainly in this country, about this fine yet underrated act. With all of about 15 minutes to set up their gear - and despite this being billed as 'acoustic Anathema', it was still a full band affair - it wasn't surprising that the sound wasn't as good as it could have been, with the band occasionally complaining they couldn't hear themselves on-stage and stopping after each track to re-tune their instruments. However, this wasn't enough to impinge on enjoyment of the gig, and Anathema put plenty of effort and passion in to their performance. On this occasion they had an additional cello player accompanying them (when they supported Blackfield in London a while ago they had a full string quartet), and songs such as Fragile Dreams and One Last Goodbye sound particularly good in this format. There was a new track aired, with Danny Cavanagh taking lead vocal (usually the job is handled by his brother Vinnie) - it was still in its formulative stages, with the full structure clearly not yet in place, but even in this form boded well for the future.
The highlight of the set came near the end, however, with flawless renditions of Temporary Peace and Flying really touching an emotional chord with the majority of the audience. Matters end somewhat anti-climactically with a cover of the rather dull Nirvana track Something In The Way, but seeing as this is effectively an 'after curfew'bonus bought on by the excellent crowd response, it seems churlish to complain. With Anathema finally getting a chance at widespread recognition via the support slot on Porcupine Tree's upcoming European tour, I'd urge everyone to make sure that they get to the shows early so as not to miss this excellent band. A fine end to an interesting night's entertainment.