Liverpool’s atmospheric rockers, Anathema, haven’t graced Finnish stages since South Park Helsinki in 2015, which was a support set played acoustically due to the circumstances, and their last headlining shows were in 2014. Following the release of their cinematic new album, The Optimist, earlier this year, they finally returned for a couple of shows, together with France’s blackgaze pioneers, Alcest, who likewise haven’t visited our country in a while. On November 8th, the tour reached Tampere, where the two groups played at Klubi.
Listen along to the sets here:
Rarely have I been lucky enough to see two bands I love playing together, but the combination of Anathema and Alcest was a dream package, as both have a dreamy, emotional quality to their music. The two bands have toured together before in the States, and now it was finally Europe’s turn, so I jumped at the chance to see the Brits and the French sharing the same stage. Additionally, both Anathema and Alcest have released new albums since I’d last seen them, so hearing the new songs come to life was yet another incentive. Judging by the fact that the show had been sold out in advance, I was far from being alone in my curiosity.
Alcest took the stage at 20:00 with an intro tape of the instrumental “Onyx” from their latest album, Kodama (2016), after which they played the title-track of the record. Kodama was represented with three tracks in the 7-song set, all of which went down well with the audience, and right from the start you could tell that some people had specifically come to see them. Vocalist/guitarist Neige – wearing a Kate Bush T-shirt – was visibly delighted at the reception, always smiling widely and basking in the applause for a moment before saying anything into the mic. Although still quite shy in his demeanor, he seemed to be a bit more more comfortable in his role as the frontman than previously. Neige’s clean vocals were angelic as always, while his screams still managed to amaze me, although I’d seen them live twice before – how can such a gentle-looking man let out such shrieks? Alcest’s sound was good, and the nuances of their songs came across very nicely, the only downside being that touring guitarist Zero’s backing vocals were sometimes drowned in the mix. When I saw the band opening for Opeth at Pakkahuone 3 years ago, they looked a bit lost on the bigger stage, but at a smaller venue like Klubi the atmosphere is perfect for their music. It’s hard to talk very analytically about any specific songs in the set, because the music just wrapped itself around you and never let go until the end. The magic was broken only briefly during one mellow section in “Éclosion”, when two guys were babbling loudly to each other – shut up and enjoy, damnit! At the end of the last song, “Délivrance”, Neige stayed on stage to make his guitar howl with feedback while the others made their exit – now that’s an unusual ending! I wish they would’ve played something from their debut, Souvenirs d’un autre monde (2007), as it’s my favorite record and was even reissued recently, but understandably there are only so many songs you can squeeze into a 1-hour set. Definitely the best performance I’ve seen by Neige and co. so far and one of the best this year!
2. Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles
3. Oiseaux de proie
5. Autre temps
6. Percées de lumière
Anathema’s show started only 5 minutes late at 21:35 with an intro video based on the cover of A Fine Day to Exit (2001) (to which The Optimist is a sequel), with the man in a car on the beach. The first song was the instrumental “San Francisco”, which started as a taped intro, but the band members entered the stage and joined in to play on it, one after the other. The track transitioned directly into the modern Anathema classic “Untouchable Pt. 1”, which featured the band’s rich trademark vocal harmonies in full force and got the audience in the right mood. However, as a bit of a change from the album version, the finger-picked acoustic guitar came from a backing track, and the headphone-wearing Daniel “Danny” Cavanagh played a delay-laden guitar line over it. The first part was naturally followed by the second, after which vocalist/guitarist Vincent Cavanagh greeted the audience in Finnish: “Moi moi, terve Tampere!” They continued with a triple punch of songs from The Optimist: the rolling “Can’t Let Go”, the mesmerizing “Endless Ways”, and the melodic title-track. A deeper cut in the set was “Barriers”, which gave Danny Cavanagh the chance to take the lead on vocals – it was a pleasure to hear such an obscure gem from the oft-overlooked A Fine Day to Exit.
At this point someone shouted “play some doom!” to which Vincent replied,: “Where have you been for the past 20 years?” Danny also pointed out that the previous song, “wasn’t exactly Bruno Mars either… Not that there’s anything wrong with Bruno Mars.” Instead of succumbing to an old-school fan’s wishes, the band moved on with “Thin Air” from 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, which was played without any backing vocals from Danny or Lee Douglas for some reason. This took the wind out of the song’s sails unfortunately, as the part in the middle sounded rather hollow without the harmonies. Luckily one of my favorites, “A Simple Mistake”, was up next. Once again the arrangement was slightly different, as Douglas handled the lead vocals instead of Vincent – this was something I hadn’t expected, but it worked nonetheless, and the climax sounded so big and heavy that it should’ve satisfied the heckler who had yearned for metal. “Closer” brought the main set to an end with Vincent on Vocoder, but it didn’t sound as forceful as it could have. Clearly I’m becoming quite picky with performances of songs I’ve heard live before!
The crowd didn’t have to clap for long until the taped instrumental “Firelight” started playing as a prelude to the electronic and dancey title-track of Distant Satellites (2014). This is a good example of a song that sounds much better live – the ending sounds quite tame on the album, but here Vincent was whacking away on his percussion while Danny played a rocking guitar part. “Springfield” from the new album seems to have inherited the spot that used to belong to “A Natural Disaster” as the song for which the audience members are asked to light the room with the lights on their phones. To be honest, I think “Disaster” is a better tune for this purpose, as “Springfield” is still very new, and it’s not as emotionally charged, but I get the band’s need for variety. “Back to the Start” was a bit of an odd pick from The Optimist, as I find it a bit dull on the album, and sadly hearing it live didn’t manage to sway my head. There are way better songs on the record, such as “Leaving it Behind”, which I’m sure would’ve sounded great live earlier on in the set. To conclude the show, the band threw in a little tribute to Pink Floyd, as Danny played a “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” teaser, over which Vincent sang “See Emily Play” before an energetic and well-received rendition of “Fragile Dreams.” As a fun little extra, the outro tape was a mashup of the vocals from Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and the instruments from Radiohead’s “No Surprises”, and Danny roused the crowd to a sing-along of the chorus.
Towards the end, I couldn’t help noticing that Vincent was in a sullen mood – he knocked over the mic stand in front of his keyboards at the end of “A Simple Mistake”, and after “Fragile Dreams” he left the stage immediately, while the others stayed to thank the audience. I doubt the request for old stuff managed to ruin his vibe, as he and Danny laughed it off, so I bet he was having some technical issues. Meanwhile, Danny seemed a little distant and wasn’t interacting with the audience much or firing them up in his usual fashion, although at the end he said, “I hope you enjoyed it – I surely did.” During my interview with him earlier that evening he’d mentioned being tired, so apparently this was still affecting him on stage. However, singer Lee Douglas and the third Cavanagh brother, bassist Jamie, seemed to be having a good time, and I ended up paying a lot of attention to Jamie and drummer Daniel Cardoso, which made me realize how critical a tight rhythm section is on a tune like “The Lost Song Pt. 3.” Speaking of rhythm, I’m surprised the band didn’t mention the absence of drummer (nowadays mainly percussionist) John Douglas, who had left the tour a month earlier. While they did survive without him, he’s a founding member, and there were some key songs (co)written by him in the setlist as well, so an acknowledgement would’ve been fair.
Although Anathema were professionals and their show was enjoyable in itself, I was still left yearning for a bit more. Judging by setlist.fm, Tampere got one of the (if not the) shortest sets of the tour, and while the video screen was a nice addition, it could’ve been used more effectively. I suspect I might not have been as happy with Anathema had Alcest not put me in such a good mood beforehand. Hopefully next time everything will work out for the Cavanaghs!
Intro (32.63N 117.14W)
1. San Francisco
2. Untouchable Pt. 1
3. Untouchable Pt. 2
4. Can’t Let Go
5. Endless Ways
6. The Optimist
7. The Lost Song Pt. 3
9. Thin Air
10. A Simple Mistake
12. Distant Satellites
14. Back to the Start
15. Fragile Dreams
Outro (No Surprises/What a Wonderful World)