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Sunday 23rd September 2012
Academy 3 in Birmingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
On an autumnal Sunday night in Birmingham with strong winds gusting through the city and heavy rain soaking this evening's attendees at the Academy prior to their entrance in the venue, Dutch duo Death Letters take to the stage at 7:45pm to perform a half hour set in front of Anneke Van Giersbergen's gathering of fans. With minimal stage lighting and merely a two-piece, there's nothing vaguely verging on minimalist about the sound they spew forth as guitarist/vocalist Jordi “Duende” Ariza Lora and drummer Victor Brandt make up in sonics what they lack in numbers. Transcending any obvious categorisation, their tunes span a diverse spectrum from post-rock ambient melancholy right through to bursts of riff-heavy aggressive mania and everything in-between. Squashed into a corner of the stage in front of Anneke's band's backline, Duende manages to make the most of the space he has, thrusting his body around in all kinds of energetic moves during songs' heavier passages and shaking his head frantically as if being attacked by an imaginary swarm of angry bees. Some occasionally (and skilfully) looped guitar parts help fill out their sound although Death Letters' real strength is in their adept songwriting and its execution in a live context which makes the most of their minimal set-up. Most impressive is the wonderfully atmospheric soundscapes they manage to attain with just guitar and drums and, likewise, the level of energy and intensity when they heavy it up. And the audience seem to love 'em judging by the loud cheers and applause they receive. It's certainly deserved.
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With just a fifteen minute change-over time, Irish prog-edged alt-rockers Mojo Fury are up next at 8:30pm. Garnering a more subdued crowd reaction than Death Letters (the Dutch duo, with their infectious energy and innovative compositions are a tough act to follow), the Irishmen still put on a good show over the course of half an hour. With frontman Michael Mormecha sporting an anachronistic Beatles style hairdo, their musical influences are evidently retro too, albeit infused with a slight contemporary edge that prevents their songs from being merely idolist pastiche. Grungey, classic/alt-rock sounds aplenty generally seem to wash over a largely static audience although the upbeat, up-tempo nature of Mojo Fury's material does inspire a little movement from a few audience members. However, despite a solid performance and some semi-catchy songs, this Irish act offer very little that's new or emotionally stirring and, as such, fall a little flat after the opening Dutchmen.
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Anneke Van Giersbergen at the Academy 3 in Birmingham, UK, 23rd September 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
As the clock hits 9:20pm, it's time for tonight's main attraction and, as lights dim and intro music commences, those who were previously lining the 300 capacity venue's perimeters gather in front of the stage to form a sizeable crowd. This evening, and I guess this week for other areas of the UK, is something of a special occasion as Anneke Van Giersbergen's short run of five gigs are her first headline shows on these shores as a solo artist since she parted company with The Gathering back in 2007. In fact, her handful of dates over here last November supporting Within Temptation together with Devin Townsend's 'Addicted' show were the first time she'd performed in the UK in many years, so there's definitely an air of specialness about tonight which sees her UK tour climax in Birmingham. And radiating her usual effervescent charm through a perennial smile throughout an eighty minute set, the impression Anneke gives is that she's enjoying the occasion as much as those who've turned up to see her.

With a phenomenal new record released at the start of the year, 'Everything Is Changing', a diverse suite of songs that showcases some of Anneke's best songwriting during the last five years, it's from said album a large portion of tonight's set is drawn. It's evidently a sign she has full confidence and satisfaction with her latest material (justifiably so) and a trio of new tracks open proceedings - 'Feel Alive'; 'My Boy' and 'Take Me Home'. Apart from a small glitch during the start of 'Feel Alive' where her vocals can't be heard at all (the sound engineer realises this a couple of lines in so turns up Anneke's mic), there's a pristine sound through the PA with guitars, bass, drums, and vocals mixed to perfection. And the new material translates perfectly in a live setting - aided, I guess, by a talented bunch of musicians in her band, including husband and masterful sticksman Rob Snijders behind the kit. However, it's Anneke's vocals and the lady herself which are the star of the show - pitch perfect and emotionally captivating, her singing, as always, is like sonic velvet, particularly over the more down-tempo, balladic numbers such as the stupendously beautiful 'Circles' and one of two 'Air' tracks performed tonight, 'Beautiful One'. And when she rocks it up, the power and range of her voice is simply breathtaking...and there are many rockier moments in a predominantly high-energy, fun-filled show - the two pre-encore set closers, 'Stay' and '1000 Miles Away From You' sound particularly incredible.

Beyond her singing talents, Anneke is also a performer par excellence. Oozing sincere confidence on stage and an infectiously bubbly personality, she engages in some seriously sprightly dancing while swinging her hair around, and this seems to spark a contingent of the audience into similarly energetic movement with a small group of people jumping up and down throughout most of the set. Anneke even temporarily subverts the artist/audience divide by running off the stage during encore number 'Hope, Pray, Dance, Play' and appears through a side door to dance in the middle of a seemingly surprised and enthusiastic crowd. A couple of nods towards her days in The Gathering materialise through 'Saturnine' and 'Even the Spirits Are Afraid' which receive some of the biggest cheers of the night - that's not to say people seem to enjoy these more than her solo material but nostalgia can be an affectively potent beast! The inclusion of a Eurythmics cover, 'Here Comes the Rain Again', is a nice addition in a rocked up version and Devin 'Addicted' track 'Hyperdrive' during the first encore is most welcome before matters are wrapped up with one final burst of vintage solo-Anneke in the form of 'Witnesses' as both the crowd and Anneke dance their final moves of the evening. All in all, a phenomenal show from a phenomenally talented lady. Let's hope it's not too long before us UK peeps are treated to another fix of this most marvellous Dutch singer.
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