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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Another Point Of View: Anathema (Review By Paul)

Anathema: Liverpool Cathedral

In 2014 Liverpool progressive rockers Anathema released the Distant Satellites album, which made the lists of many of the rock world’s top ten lists. It was a fabulous piece of work, incorporating some fresh approaches to their already crafted sound; the use of multiple loops for example. They played some of their new tracks at their slot at the Download Festival where they supported Opeth on the third stage. To be fair, that wasn’t their best performance with sound and technical problems impacting on the show. However, two nights later, Daniel, Vince and Lee delivered one of the highlights of 2014 with a quite beautiful acoustic show at Gloucester Cathedral. The band hit the road in the autumn in support of Distant Satellites, gigging extensively across the UK and Europe for over three months. At the Bristol gig, Danny announced that the band would be doing “something special” in 2015. A few weeks later they announced a run of four more acoustic dates, at Leeds Minster, Exeter and Winchester Cathedrals and the obvious highlight, an evening at Liverpool Cathedral; not only the biggest Anglican cathedral in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe but of course, in their home city. With tickets very reasonably priced at £25, we (he means Mrs H and himself - Ed) decided to make a weekend of it and take in a short city break with the Anathema acoustic the obvious centre piece. 

Liverpool Cathedral is an imposing building, visible across the city skyline from virtually everywhere. We arrived a good 25 minutes before doors to find a healthy sized queue already waiting. As we waited, we chatted to various other fans in the queue and discovered people from Poland, Germany alongside fans from other parts of the UK; Newcastle and Scotland adding to the Welsh presence that we provided. In fact, apart from the staff within the Cathedral, I didn't hear a Liverpuddlian accent in the audience all evening. 

We were fortunate enough to have purchased tickets for block A and as we entered this most imposing and impressive place of worship, we headed towards the front of the block and were rewarded with seats three rows from the front. As the front two rows were reserved for family and friends, we were in fact seated in the front row! Result. This was to prove particularly rewarding for most of the evening as several of the seats in front of us remained unoccupied which provided us with excellent lines of sight for the entire evening. Support was provided by accomplished violinist Anna Phoebe (8) and guitarist Nicolas Rizzi who provided a captivating half an hour of many styles as they performed compositions from her eight year recording history along with tracks from Phoebe’s latest release Between The Shadow And The Soul. Her sound soars and swoops, a myriad of influences from Eastern to soulful jazz with all stations in between whilst Rizzi’s classical almost Latino style complemented and embellished the overall direction and enhanced the richness of sound. Visually, Phoebe is enchanting and entertaining, moving around the stage, full of expressions and emotion, swaying in time to the music and delivered a performance which was incredibly enjoyable. Having released her first album in 2006, she is an experienced artist and has performed with many of the rock world’s legends, including Jon Lord, Jethro Tull, Roxy Music and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. However, her humility when thanking the band and the crew was very endearing.

With the sell-out crowd seated and the lights creating a magical atmosphere in the knave and across the vast structure of the cathedral ceiling, Danny Cavanagh arrived on stage in a casual, almost nonchalant manner, strapping on his guitar and hitting the opening chords of The Lost Song Pt 2; quickly joined by brother Vincent and vocalist Lee Douglas. Being an acoustic set, all of the tracks performed were stripped back and there was a unique opportunity to obtain a completely different perspective to some of Anathema’s (10) most heartfelt and passionate music. After receiving a massive ovation, the trio delivered the opening duo from Weather Systems, Untouchable Part 1 and Part 2. It was evident that Danny was particularly nervous as the evening was being filmed for a future DVD. Following the conclusion of Untouchable Part 2, he asked if the audience would mind if they played Part 1 again, as he was not content with the performance. Now, given that this is one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever written, there was not a person in the congregation who would have objected and the opportunity to hear the song again was warmly approved. I didn't notice anything wrong with version 1 to be honest, but the second version tugged at the heart strings once again and concluded with a warm and sincere ovation. Visibly relaxed, Danny acknowledged the support of the audience and commented that he could now get on with the show. Thin Air was followed by the most beautiful version of Dreaming Light, with Lee’s vocals enhancing the original version. Lee’s brother John (Drums), Vincent’s twin brother Jamie (Bass), fantastic cellist David Wesling joined the band onstage for a couple of numbers including a completely reworked Anathema which also featured Anna Phoebe and the band filled the cavernous venue with the most beautiful sound. Arial from Distant Satellites followed, a delicate, fragile song with the acoustics of the cathedral adding to the atmosphere.

I took the opportunity to have a quick glance at the audience behind me. It was incredible with the attention entirely directed at the stage as everyone strained to soak up the incredible changes to their favourite songs in a setting far grander than 99.9% of venues where Anathema usually perform.

The Anathema acoustic sound is very much based on Danny’s acoustic guitar which he records live on to loops which then enhance the sound as each song builds. This was evidenced later in the show where he took a few moments to get the right loops in place, including a very humorous moment where he scolded the audience for getting too quickly involved by clapping along! A rare outing for Electricity from A Natural Disaster with Danny handling lead vocals was a real treat, before The Beginning And The End from Weather Systems was performed beautifully. Temporary Peace, Distant Satellites and Take Shelter brought the main set to a perfectly balanced conclusion with the band leaving the stage as the loops continued to roll and the audience rose to their feet in appreciation.

The encore was even more special. Opening with Internal Landscapes, the moving closing track from Weather Systems which explores the experiences of death and peace, a tear welled in the corner of my eye. As the piece continued, I suspect I was not the only one who was fighting the urge to blubber like a fool. The penultimate song, A Natural Disaster is possibly the most stunning track Anathema have ever written and with Lee Douglas, the band has, in my opinion, the most incredible female vocalist in music today. Her vocal performance was almost beyond description, with her delicate and emotional delivery enhanced by the reverential surrounding, the track building to a crescendo with John and Jamie doing their thing before slowing to a measured and subtly controlled finish. Of course, favourite Fragile Dreams concluded the evening, with the audience now on their feet and clapping along. At times they had appeared understandably nervous, with the added pressure of family, friends, a sold-out crowd and a film crew all adding to the pressure. However, once again Anathema demonstrated how they have evolved, stripping down and reconstructing a fifteen track set with love, passion and above all much thought. An absolutely enchanting evening, in a magical location and a privilege to be present. This, combined with the opportunity to explore a quite fantastic city made it an unforgettable experience. 

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