There are not really any bands that I can think of that sound like Anathema. Since forming in 1990, the rockers from Liverpool have morphed many times, taking on new sounds and influences, and have become one of the country's best loved alternative bands. These days, Anathema are firmly in the 'progressive rock' camp, with complex songwriting and huge atmospherics at the forefront of their sound. Influences are also taken from modern alternative rock, electronica, and metal, and these sounds are all woven seamlessly together to create Anathema's unique brand of soaring and emotional music. With a new album on the cards for next year, the band decided to arrange a UK tour to road test some of this new material. The venues chosen for this tour were smaller than those the band would usually play, and the intimate setting really brought the best out of the band. This sort of music is supposed to be in your face and emotionally hard-hitting, and the confines of the smaller venues certainly helped this fact. These shows were also billed as 'Evenings With...', which meant there were no support bands at any of the shows, with the band opting to play a two hour headlined set instead. I chose to go to The Globe in Cardiff, which was the second night of the tour. This was a new venue for me, and it one I hope to return to. Despite being slightly outside of the main city, the 350 capacity venue was great, with a decent-sized stage that was not crammed into a corner, and even a small balcony. I was near the front for the entire show, but it strikes me that you would probably have a great view of the band wherever you chose to stand. Despite some early sound issues that affected the first couple of songs, the sound throughout the evening was excellent. It was so clear, which is exactly what is needed for Anathema's complex and multi-layered music. With the venue opening at 8pm, and Anathema hitting the stage at 8:30pm, this made for an efficient evening. So many venues leave you hanging around for ages before the music starts (and then again between bands) that it was refreshing to have very little waiting time here.
To go with this theme of efficiency, there was little fanfare throughout the show either. The band came on stage and immediately went into their first number, which was one of the four new ones played, Gotyou To (which I assume is a working title, as that is a horrible name for a song!). In true Anathema style it was a bit of a surprise, with little of the atmospherics that has characterised their more recent work. Jamie Cavanagh (bass guitar) drove the song with a powerful bassline, and Vincent Cavanagh (vocals/guitar/keyboards/percussion) delivered one of his trademark passionate vocal displays. It was quite a short song, and some sound issues definitely affected it, so I do not feel able to form an opinion on it. Sound issues affected about half of Untouchable - Part 1 too, with everything just sounded extremely quiet. Suddenly however, the PA seemed to really come to life and full volume was restored. From this point onward, the show was stunning. I had only see Anathema once before, which was an acoustic show at Exeter Cathedral last year which was fantastic, but to finally see the band at full power and strength was something to behold. Untouchable - Part 2 followed with Lee Douglas (vocals) duetting perfectly with Vincent as main songwriter Danny Cavanagh (guitar/keyboards/vocals) played the piano. Many of the band are multi-instrumentalists, with the Cavanagh brothers (besides Jamie) swapping between guitar and keyboards throughout, and John Douglas (drums/percussion) and Daniel Cardoso (keyboards/drums) constantly moving around the stage to perform different roles. An early highlight was the Lee-lead Ariel from the band's most recent album, before another new number Springfield really wowed the crowd. This was more familiar territory for the band, with both Vincent and Lee performing vocals, all underpinned by Danny's spacey guitar melodies. The Storm Before the Calm is a song that really comes alive when played live, with Vincent and Cardoso both providing keyboard duties, while Jamie's bassline adds the slightly funky edge to the electronic cacophony created by the keyboards.
Another song which highlights the band's electronic side is Closer. This seems Vincent again behind the keyboards, and singing with some really strange effect on his voice. It is such a unique song, that decends into near-metal riffing at one point, and one that definitely needs to be heard live to reach it's full potential. The band briefly left the stage at this point, although it was not for an encore as Firelight played over the PA and they soon returned to play the juggernaut Distant Satellites. This is a fantastic song, and one of the best numbers from their most recent album, and it is a real vocal showcase for Vincent who uses the really delicate side of his voice for a lot of it. It was one of only two songs from that album played however (not counting Firelight) with the majority of the setlists being culled from Weather Systems and We're Here Because We're Here, along with some others including the new numbers. The final two new songs followed, and again they were two quite different beasts. The first, Bricks, was a guitar-driven and slightly punky upbeat rocky number which had a different kind of energy to that which the band usually have. This was more of a primal rock song, foregoing much of their complex layers of sound, but it still worked well and shows a bit of a different side to the band. The second, The Optimist, was dense and emotional ballad which would have fit right at home on any of the band's more recent albums. It seems Anathema are going to give us both familiar and different material on their next album, and hearing these four work-in-progress tasters makes me look forward to hearing the album when it comes out next year. The final two songs played were both real fan-favourites. The bluesy A Natural Disaster is Lee's real vocal showcase, and it has become an ever-present addition to the band's live set. It always goes down well live, and she sings it perfectly. Closing the evening was a raucous version of Fragile Dreams, the only 'old' song the band seem to play on a regular basis. It is built around an excellent guitar lead, and the chorus is a real sing-a-long moment which had the sold-out crowd singing it back at the band with real passion. I brought a fantastic evening of live music to a triumphant end and the crowd called for more well after the house lights had come back on! The setlist was:
Untouchable - Part 1
Untouchable - Part 2
A Simple Mistake
The Storm Before the Calm
The Beginning and the End
A Natural Disaster
Finally getting to see a full-blown electric Anathema show was something I had been wanting to see for quite some time, so to finally get to see one in a small venue was fantastic. I am sure this will be one of the highlights of my gigging year come next month, and I really look forward to hearing the new album next year. Luckily I do not have long to wait before seeing the band again, as they are supporting Opeth at Wembley Arena in a couple of weekends time!