Their Special Friend Pinky
Anathema at the Hard Club, Gaia, Portugal
October 20th, 2001

by: Pedro Azevedo
Oh dear. It is a good thing that I'm not into joining fan clubs, or else I might find myself thrown out of the Anathema club one of these days. Not only did I give their latest album _A Fine Day to Exit_ a measly 7.5 [CoC #55], I am actually about to criticize this live performance of theirs more than I shall praise it. And Anathema were my number one choice for band I would most like to see live...

So was it really that bad? Paradoxically enough, no -- not at all, really. As a matter of fact, this was a very good gig... for a highly professional rock band, that is. Anathema have been around for quite a few years now, and quite clearly they've grown tired of a few things in their music. Danny Cavanagh's current rock approach to guitar playing quite simply fails to convey the emotion his work once did; Les Smith's keyboards fail to compensate for that; new (temporary?) bassist George looked both uninterested and longing to be someplace else. Drummer John Douglas was both technically impeccable and seemed to be enjoying himself, but it was pretty much down to Vincent Cavanagh's mesmerizing vocal performance to keep the whole thing above average. Which, as a matter of fact, bears striking resemblance to the way I feel about their latest album.

Contrary to the previous night in Lisbon, where from what I heard Anathema played only a few songs from the new album, this time they played around half a dozen of them. Vinny showed enough irony to try to perform a head count on the people who actually had the album midway through the concert, but bitter irony it was: most people didn't know the new songs, but then they were hardly engaging in any way like Anathema used to be.

Like I mentioned before, it was Vincent's superb vocals that carried the band along throughout the gig. Nevertheless, the charismatic frontman's approach to the band's music these days often allows him to be quite the jester between songs -- which is all fine, except for me it tends to ruin the deeply emotional music that's supposed to follow. One example of that is when Vinny told the audience "See? We can smile too!", followed by a big grin; funny, but then he introduced the following song with "We're gonna play a really miserable song for you now" -- by then the song was half ruined already as far as I was concerned, and the emotion he showed while singing it consequently came across as less than genuine. I'd rather see Katatonia's Jonas Renkse hiding his face behind his hands and staring at the floor for most of his performance -- at least it relates to the band's music a lot more.

Before Anathema went on stage, Portuguese opening act Divine Lust tried to impress the audience by playing an Anathema cover and having Vinny do some vocals. I believe it was "Shroud of False", but since the whole concert started a good hour earlier than scheduled, I missed it, together with the rest of Divine Lust's performance. I was told by various people that Vinny appeared on stage for that cameo wearing big eyeglasses, a hat with two antennas and also that he ate a banana on stage.

Throughout the hour and a half Anathema played for, they performed with superior musicianship a selection of tracks from their last couple of albums. The _Judgement_ material came across better than the new songs, in my opinion, but they seemed to pick a lot of calmer material off _Judgement_ as well -- adding up to an excessively soft performance, in my opinion. "Fragile Dreams" was sung mostly by the audience, to the band's obvious delight, but it was the only track off _Alternative 4_ besides "Empty" to make it to the setlist. Similarly to the other time I saw Anathema live, they wrapped it up with "A Dying Wish" from the immortal _The Silent Enigma_, and a cover song. "A Dying Wish" (or "frying fish", like Vinny amusingly announced it) included a couple of rather lengthy and noisy interludes, but lost none of its impact; I felt saddened at how much more enjoyable it was than their recent material. This time the final cover song was a very heartfelt version of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb", after Vinny had added some more theatricals talking to his invisible friend Pinky. Vinny then said goodbye and wished everyone a good life, and so ended the gig.

Having already seen Anathema once in Manchester, I was less than impressed by Anathema's _A Fine Day to Exit_-enhanced setlist. The sound, lighting, scenario and performance were all superb this time, but the unimpressive new material and a few annoying details made it a lot less enjoyable for me than I had hoped. Like I wrote in the beginning of this article, this was a superb gig for a rock band; but I feel Anathema have lost a lot of what made them special to me. On the other hand, they seem to be steadily growing into the new Pink Floyd, or maybe something even bigger than that.

(article submitted 14/1/2002)

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