Through Anathema's musical progression over the years from death/doom during the early 90s to their diversified, experimental prog rock oriented sound and contemporary pastiche of Floydian style songwriting on the last few albums, they have always managed to sustain a hardcore following of dedicated fans. It is, therefore, no surprise this evening to observe a large gathering in front of the stage a while before the Liverpudlians appear. What is perhaps surprising, however, is that during Anathema's set, two thirds of the 1500 strong crowd seem entirely disinterested and unimpressed with what they see/hear, remaining motionless and not even applauding songs. I guess this is a mindset of the more insular minded middle-aged British prog-rock fan, a large number of which must be present and only have ears for Porcupine Tree tonight. Whatever the case, Anathema's loyal following are treated to material both old and new from up tempo set opener 'Fragile Dreams' from 2004's 'Alternative 4' to new track 'Angels Walk Among Us' which, judging by the huge cheers when it's announced, is already a fan favourite. Guitarist Danny Cavanagh delivers a vibrant performance, which is explicated by his proclamation mid-set that playing Rock City for the first time is "a dream come true", and looks genuinely lost in his playing during the slower songs and highly animated in the up tempo numbers, seemingly savouring his every moment on stage. Brother Vinnie's vocals are captivating as ever, with the poignantly expressive delivery on 'Deep' and 'Flying' still affectively moving and having the same emotional impact as when the songs first appeared in 1999 and 2003 respectively. Now a permanent member of the band, Lee Douglas' powerful singing impresses such as on 'A Natural Disaster' which is aired tonight, although her brother, long term Anathema drummer John Douglas, is conspicuous by his absence, with an unidentified sticksman behind the kit (although I later discover this to be only a temporary replacement). Les Smith gives a solid performance on keyboards, and attired in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt is a reminder that said band's over-hyped reunion show is also taking place at the O2 Arena in London this evening. And then there's the third Cavanagh brother, Jamie, who plays bass with discernible enthusiasm. Collectively, Anathema are a phenomenally good live act which makes it even more inexplicable that such a large portion of the audience seem unmoved by their performance. The last time I caught Anathema live was at the Paradiso in Amsterdam back in 2005 when they were on tour supporting......Porcupine Tree! By that time, they were already without a label after Music For Nations ceased to exist, and have remained unsigned ever since. However, Danny Cavanagh's announcement tonight that they'll be recording the eagerly anticipated new album imminently with Steve Wilson as producer is more than welcome, particularly knowing how highly regarded the production talents of Porcupine Tree's frontman are. If the world was a different place, and Anathema had got the big break of which they've always been so deserving at some point during their career, they should be headlining large arenas alongside the likes of Muse and Radiohead. Alas, greater success has perpetually eluded them, so one can only hope that 2008 will be the year that changes that. And based on tonight's awe-inspiring performance at Rock City, Anathema are a band in their prime and most certainly worthy of a long awaited, and long overdue, big break. Utterly brilliant!
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Monday 10th December 2007
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Having last seen Porcupine Tree in this very same venue only eight months previously, it's interesting to observe a noticeably larger audience than back in April. Still riding high on the critical and commercial success of latest Roadrunner album 'Fear of a Blank Planet', it appears Porcupine Tree are finally starting to receive the widespread recognition in their home country they've deserved for so long. Opening with 'Fear of a Blank Planet', they opt to play only two thirds of the latest release tonight rather than the album in its entirety as in April, though it's also pleasing to hear new track 'What Happens Now?' from the recently released EP 'Nil Recurring'. Steve Wilson, who seems insistent on doing his best Cousin Itt impersonation as hair covers his face virtually the entire night, is an appealing frontman through his unpretentious demeanour. This manifests through the humorous introduction to 'Anesthetize' - "we're gonna play some sexy prog rock for you now", and when he forgets what guitar effect to select on his pedal board for 'Trains', informing the audience they haven't played the track in a while as a roadie appears on stage on assist him! It's also amusing to watch live session guitarist John Wesley during the band's first encore number 'Hatesong' alternate between playing his parts on stage and running to the bar where he chats with Anathema bassist Jamie Cavanagh and fans while enjoying a drink! The overall visual impact of Porcupine Tree's stage show is slightly abated tonight with the absence of their idiomatic video projections, which Wilson apologises for, blaming a technical fault and stating "you'll just have to make do with watching us". However, the show's visual lack is more than compensated for audibly through a plethora of strong material from the band's long history, delivered with a pristine sound and perfectly balanced mix through the PA. Perennial fan favourites 'Blackest Eyes', 'Lazarus' and 'A Smart Kid' are all aired tonight alongside 'The Sound of Muzak', 'Open Car', 'Dark Matter', 'Mellotron Scratch', 'Way Out of Here' and pre-encore set closer 'Sleep Together', before the band return to play the aforementioned 'Hatesong' and 'Trains' before concluding with 'Halo'. After tonight's show, I have the overwhelming impression that Porcupine Tree are a band on the threshold of even greater success and their ever increasing popularity indicates they are inevitably destined to outgrow venues the size of Rock City, and take their music to much larger audiences. Stunning.
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Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes