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Wednesday 24 July 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Anathema (Live Review By Paul H)

Anathema - Back To The Start, The Dome, Grand Central Hall, Liverpool

Disappointingly unknown in their home city, this was the opportunity for the Liverpool band to show how far they had travelled. As Vincent Cavanagh had pointed out in the build up to this anticipated show, their booking agent always choose Manchester over Liverpool. Tonight, those promoters were proved wrong as a passionate partisan crowd threw every ounce of love at their heroes in a magnificent venue where Danny Cavanagh played his first ever live show at the age of 15.

The entrance to this imposing Edwardian hall is tucked away off a main road, with a pleasing grassed courtyard providing space for those eager for their place at the front sanctuary to queue away from the maddening crowds swelling the numerous bars and pubs nearby. A heady mix of prog fans, tattooed black metal fans in full battle jackets and gentle couples holding hands mixed, swapping stories of their previous encounters and took selfies with guitarist Danny Cavanagh whilst patiently waiting for an audience with possibly the most important UK rock outfit of modern times. As we filed to the upper circle and took our seats, the throng in front of the stage slowly swelled as the excitement grew.

The pre-gig promotional information teased us with the promise of a changed set list, visuals and special lighting, but we also got a superb support act in the shape of Danish progressive metallers Vola (8). There may have been a lot of “who are they?” around the venue but there were plenty more new fans by the end of their 30-minute set. Their sound was a little muddy, partly to do with the style of the venue where the circle design interrupted the clean lines which Vola deliver. However, the Danes delivered a strong six track set, pulled predominantly from 2018’s Applause From A Distant Crowd. By the time the band hit Alien Shivers, they had hit their groove and importantly had also drawn in more of the audience. Despite the usual annoyance of the chatter of the non-interested, Vola moved with a grace and style that allowed focus to remain on the stage. Asger Mygind (vocals/guitar), Martin Werner (keys), Nicolai Mogensen (bass) and Adam Janzi (drums) received a deserved round of applause as they finished their set and the only real disappointment was the absence of anyone on their merch table when I popped there to pick up some goodies.

The house lights slowly dimmed and as the heat in the venue continued to increase to rather uncomfortable levels, the main event slowly unfolded. I’ve reviewed Anathema (9) several times and it’s fair to say that musically, the band rarely put a foot wrong. Danny Cavanagh is a control freak and perfectionist at times but there was rarely any type of tantrum during this balanced and surprisingly predictable set. Opening with San Francisco, the intro from their last release, The Optimist, the first thing we noticed was that the sound remained a little fuzzy and would remain so until we moved to the rear of the circle later in the show. Secondly, the band had cleverly introduced a large screen at the rear of the stage which allowed for some enchanting visuals for several segments of the show. The light show didn’t astound, but with Vincent revealing that they had changed lighting technician with two days to go, you had some sympathy. With Daniel Cardoso and John Douglas changing places between percussion/programming and drums as the set developed, Jamie Cavanagh assumed his usual position stage left whilst twin Vincent switched from keyboards to guitar with fluent ease. The arrival of Lee Douglas completed the unit and the band moved smoothly into a couple more from The Optimist, Can’t Let Go and Endless Ways, both demonstrating the dynamic and complex elements of the band’s evolution. Ariel from Distant Satellites followed, the song dedicated to Danny’s daughter. Cohesive, tight and always totally mesmerising, Anathema performed a stunning show which ticked all the boxes of those who love the band post Alternative 4. Highlights included the emotionally charged The Storm Before The Calm, the band building the atmosphere with an intensity few can rival, a perfect Deep from Judgement and A Natural Disaster, a song which once more allowed Lee Douglas to shine with her superb vocals.

No encore as such, but the band ensured that everyone went home happy by performing the now legendary Untouchable Parts 1 & 2, before an euphoric Fragile Dreams sent the venue into emotional overload, Danny Cavanagh delivering some blistering guitar work (which he had done all night to be fair). Whilst the set list may have avoided music from their early dark gothic doom period and retained more than a nod to recent set lists, there was little to criticise overall. Anathema remain one of the must-see bands for me; their limited popularity in parts of the UK continues to bemuse me whilst their European appeal mushrooms. With a headline show at Ramblin’ Man Fair followed by A Night At The Prog in Germany, the band demonstrated that after a quarter of a century they remain vital, relevant and essential. It was indeed a night to remember.

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