ANATHEMA Gig Review
Support: Nosound, Engineers & Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) Acoustic.
London / The Union Chapel, Friday 30th September 2010
Review by Yiannis (John) Stefanis
One of the negative things about the ever growing importance of technology in music is that it enables a vast number of technically inadequate musicians to produce bodies of work whose quality does not correspond with their individual skills. Whereas a good producer and an up-to-date operating system such as ProTools can turn any mouse into a man during the recording process, the former will eventually face having to perform live – the place where only the truly gifted are capable of winning their laurels. There are not many bands that I am aware of whose live performances consistently outshine their studio efforts. One such collective, however, is the Liverpudlian quintet Anathema, so every time an opportunity to attend such a show is provided, I tend to grab it with both hands. What was bound to make this Friday night show truly special, apart from seeing one of my favourite bands live of course, was the fact that their performance was to be part of an acoustic festival organised by their current label Kscope, taking place at the beautiful interior of London’s Congregationalist Union Chapel and so it was with much excitement that I headed towards the north London venue after another stressful day at work.
So far in my life I have been lucky enough to have attended many unusual shows, from a hundred people-strong festival in the back garden in a small Dutch village to the eighty- thousand Wacken Open Air festival in Germany but never before have I had the opportunity to listen to a Rock performance inside the walls of an active religious establishment. Full credit must be given to the organisers of this concert for making this one of the best live settings I have ever seen, even though the limited amount of space that was provided in front of the Chapel’s pulpit for setting the stage and the total absence of a drum kit was certainly a topic for discussion amongst the audience.
First to hit the stage were two members of the Italian Art/Progressive Rock outfit Nosound, with main man Giancarlo Erra (acoustic guitar/vocals) and keyboardist Paolo Martellacci. I have never before listened to the music of this quintet but I was well aware of their tendency to delve into long atmospheric interludes influenced by the works of the mighty Pink Floyd so I decided quite early on to give them my utmost attention. The first couple of songs were fairly pleasant and quite indicative of what the band’s set was to be, with Giancarlo taking up a leading role, however his not-so-commanding vocal performance combined with a few technical problems (a three minute gap while trying to get the electric guitar going) seems to have somewhat damaged the consistency of the set. Having said that, compositions such as “The Broken Parts” and the upcoming “Tomakis” (not sure if I spell it right) were met with much excitement by the crowd who gave the duet a solid round of applause just before they left the stage half an hour later.
The second duet of the night was that of Simon Phipps and Mark Peters from the London based dream pop quintet Engineers –whose music was praised by Anathema’s Danny Cavanagh as “The best I’ve heard in a long time” prior to the show. It is with much sadness that I find myself inclined to disagree with Danny as I found the band’s performance to be lacking spontaneity and energy, resulting in me losing interest after the first couple of songs. There can be many ways of describing how these two lads sound in an acoustic setting but to me that night they came across as a bland and far less inspiring version of Simon and Garfunkel – well, as they duet would have sounded today had Garfunkel not been suffering from vocal cord paresis. Once again, a certain part of the audience seemed to be having a much better time than I did at this stage, clapping their hands and singing along to the tunes of “Forgiveness”, “How To Say Goodbye” and “What It’s Worth” but after thirty minutes of listening to their music the only thing I was really happy about was the fact that the time to see Anathema on stage was fast approaching.
Even though the vast majority of the crowd was here to see Anathema, I did notice quite a few people sporting T-shirts featuring The Pineapple Thief logo and it was these very same people who welcomed guitarist Bruce Soord on stage. I am fully aware of the kind of noise that an acoustic guitar can make in the right hands, still I was slightly taken aback by the power and enthusiasm that Bruce brought with him on stage tonight. Kicking off his set with the quite emotive “My Debt To You” he went on tormenting his guitar (which miraculously did not lose any strings in the process) while performing material from past releases, all of which were received quite positively by the audience. With the assistance of a female vocal companion, Bruce’s intention to grant us with what was described as a ‘world premiere’ of a track entitled “One More Step Away” initially failed as the energetic frontman got so excited that he played the tunes at a much faster tempo. Hiding his face in embarrassment and knowing that the performance was being recorded, he quickly composed himself and nailed it at the second try and by the time he performed “Snowdrops” all memories of past mishaps were truly forgotten.
Anathema’s performance was one of the best that I have personally seen, even though the band was only really represented by the trio Vinnie and Danny Cavanagh and female vocalist Lee Douglas. How did the Liverpudlians cope with the total absence of a rhythm section? As only a really talented band would! Using the body of his acoustic guitar as a drum, Danny recorded a simple beat which he then looped with the assistance of his guitar pedal and by the time Vinnie and Lee came onto the stage, this simple tune had evolved into the foundation theme of the acoustic version of “Kingdom”. The band did not have to try hard to acquire the crowd’s participation as clapping hands followed the introduction of “Thin Air” – an awesome performance which found Danny’s acoustic and Vinnie’s electric guitars working in perfect harmony. Things became much better when Danny decided to sit behind the piano for “Dreaming Light” and Lee Douglas’ ethereal vocals gave the classic opus “Deep” a new lease of life. When the three members joined forces in “Angels Walk Amongst Us” I was truly blown away by the emotional intensity of their performance and I almost shed a tear when Lee began singing the lyrics to the now classic “A Natural Disaster”. More crowd participation was required, and was graciously provided, during the performance of “Flying” and the three members of Anathema left the stage only after they had provided us with an acoustic take on the best song they have ever recorded, in my opinion, the monumental “Fragile Dreams”.
Following the end of his band’s set, Vinnie Cavanagh thanked the audience for their support and, referring to the organisers of the event and his label Kscope, insisted that what both these parties ought to aim at organising a festival that would enable these bands to perform their material in an electric setting. Well, based on the reaction of the crowd tonight and my personal impression of this festival I really cannot see any reason why such an endeavour should not be undertaken again in the near future. Anathema have proven once again that they are quite capable of headlining any event and with label mates featuring, amongst others, Porcupine Tree, Gazpatcho and Ulver, the thought alone of attending such a show is exciting me already!
Anathema Set List
• Thin Air
• Dreaming Light
• Angels Walk Among Us
• A Natural Disaster
• Fragile Dreams
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Power Plays w/c 16 September (Mon-Fri)
BLOCK BUSTER Losing Gravity (Frontiers)
WATCH ME BREATHE Don’t Think I Haven’t Thought About It (The Label Group/INGrooves)
FIRES OF FREYA Take A Bow (indie)
BLACK STAR RIDERS Underneath The Afterglow (Nuclear Blast)
STOMPIN’ HEAT Shiny Curly Red Hair (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 16 September (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 THE DEFIANTS Zokusho (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 CORELEONI II (AFM Records)
14:00-16:00 TONY McLOUGHLIN True Native (Fuego)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
BAD COMPANY Company Of Strangers (1995)
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