Anathema & Alcest, Limelight 2, Belfast
If you haven't been there, then you won't realise that the Limelight 2 in Belfast is a small venue with the stage crammed to one end. Viewing can be quite restricted but having managed to take up a position behind the sound and lighting desk we were afforded reasonable sight lines for a high quality evening's music.
I first saw Alcest (8) in 2012, first at Bloodstock and then twice supporting Katatonia. I caught them again on the Pale Communion Opeth Tour in 2014 although I missed the French blackgazers at the Globe last year. Since my first encounter with the band they've bewitched me with their intricate sound and have released the beautiful Shelter and last year's excellent and heavier Kodama. Allocated a generous hour for their opening slot, Nierge, drummer Winterhalter, and long-term live band members Zero and bassist Indria Saray delivered a well-paced and balanced set. Mixing three tracks from Kodama with more established live staples such as Autre Temps and Deliverance, Alcest captivated the audience despite their restricted stage space.
Nierge and co rarely move much anyway, and it was left as always to Indria Saray to rock out at the front of the stage. The band's music switches between the shoegaze introspection during tracks such as Kodama through to the black metal crunch of songs such as La Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles and the sole track from Escales de Lune, the magnificent Percees de Lumiere. For a band whose catalogue consists of lengthy, intricate passages with time and tempo changes, the hour passed quickly and it wasn't long before the Belfast crowd was showering an deserved ovation in the French outfit.
The Optimist hit the shelves in earlier summer and has been a regular on the play list ever since. Anathema's (9) warm up shows last year provided us with the first tasters from the album and it was a joy to catch the band in the intimate Globe setting. Having already toured through South America and the States, the Liverpool outfit have eased the new tracks into the set list and they already sound wonderfully established. Every band has undroppable songs and for Anathema their particular 'legends' bookended the set. It was the heart tugging duo of Untouchable Part 1 and Part 2 opening the evening, the Belfast crowd in fine voice whilst staple set closer Fragile Dreams got the place bouncing. In between we were treated to two other beauties from Weather Systems, an unbelievable performance on The Beginning And The End and the magical Lightning Song, one of many songs that allowed Lee Douglas to demonstrate once more why she is my favourite female singer of modern times. Her performance during the mesmerising Endless Ways astonishingly good.
Daniel Cavanagh's intense focus on his performance often results in a delicate and challenging balance between perfectionism and obsession but tonight he was spot on, with the opening chords of Leaving It Behind on the button, allowing brother Vincent to arrive in typical rock star manner to kick in the vocals. Vincent, as you will know if you've read any of my other reviews of Anathema has a superb voice and he was on amazing form. His drumming during Distant Satellites wasn't bad either and he is no slouch on the guitar.
Of course it's the sum of the parts that make an exceptional band and it would be remiss not mention the solid foundation that the other members of the band lay. Jamie Cavanagh's solid bass lines combined with the percussion and keys of John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso were exceptional, especially on the epic performance of Universal which also allowed Daniel Cavanagh's sublime guitar playing to come to the fore. Cavanagh's is an underrated performer, his solos during The Optimist and Thin Air particularly impressive.
As the two hour set raced to its conclusion, we were given a choice of Lost Control or A Natural Disaster as the penultimate song. Perhaps surprisingly, given what a beauty of a track A Natural Disaster is, the track from 1998's Alternative 4 got the vote and Lee left the stage as we were given a rare glimpse of the gothic past which Anathema used to inhabit. It was brilliant. Fragile Dreams brought the house down and another superb show by one of the UK's most innovative bands concluded. This was only the second night of an extensive European tour which ends in mid-November and which will take in nearly every capital city across the continent. By the time they hit the final night in Luxembourg in November this show will be amazing. I'm heading to Bristol on 28th September for part 2. It should be another memorable evening.
Anathema & Alcest, The Marble Factory, Bristol
Date number 6 on their European tour and my second viewing of both bands. Their show in Belfast a few days earlier had been stunning, so having been on the road and with a few gigs under their belt it was time to see what, if anything had changed.
Alcest (9) certainly benefited from a slightly more spacious stage and delivered a superior performance to their one seen across the water. Unsurprisingly they stuck to the same set but with a better sound, and a venue where the music can move around the listener, the band delivered a smooth 55 minutes bookended by Kodama and Deliverance. Blisteringly heavy at times, there is a delicacy about this band that not everyone appears to get. The historical black metal influences remain buried in their music but their approach these days should win them many new fans.
Anathema (8) on the other hand were slightly less impressive than in Belfast. Partly due to the oppressive heat that had built in the venue (which is bloody awful when full) and the limited sight lines which are afforded unless you are well over six foot, but also because they were, well, just a bit looser. The road has allowed the band to get into their stride quickly and the confidence of Daniel Cavanagh was noticeable. His chatter between songs was prominent in a way that hadn't been so noticeable in Belfast, with brother Vincent taking a much quieter role. During a lengthy delay whilst Jamie Cavanagh’s bass was sorted out, Danny's "chatting shit" as he put it was quite endearing with his scouse humour filling the space but as the evening moved on there was a little bit too much at times.
However, musically, the band are nothing short of exceptional and the guitar work during Universal, Lost Control, Destiny and Fragile Dreams jaw-dropping at times. Alongside Vincent, Lee Douglas provided her usual magical performance, her sweet voice perfect for the new material but also adding extra to older tunes. I've written before about the back-line of the band, and with a little more room Jamie Cavanagh was allowed opportunity to get to the front of the stage and thump out those bass lines whilst John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso really keep the band ticking along. The new tracks from The Optimist fit comfortably into the set, Can't Let Go and Springfield already firm fan favourites. Next time Anathema head to Bristol it will surely be to a bigger venue. Over 20 years in the making, they may finally be reaping the rewards.