You know that famous part in Godfather III where Michael Corleone laments that every time he tries to get out, they pull him back in? That’s kind of like this blog and Anathema. I was supposed to have shut this blog down, finito, permanente, but I’ve covered this bloody band so extensively that when they keep doing stuff, I feel I must cover it! For instance, their new album, which they are touring, The Optimist: read my review HERE, if you please. How could I not?
So when the unlikely news that the band was going to visit Toronto came to my astonished ears, I figured I couldn’t miss it. After all, the concert films Universal (2013) and A Sort of Homecoming (2015) portray an extremely compelling and powerful band and set of personalities in action, and I’d have felt I was cheating myself if I didn’t attend. Bought a couple tickets, booked an overpriced hotel, and drove my spouse the four hours from our northern paradise (live and dream beneath your northern horizon, you know ;>) expecting not to be disappointed.
And you know, the show did have a few surprises. First of all, Toronto’s Opera House looks striking, but what awful sound it sometimes has. Just as with The Church concert I reviewed last year and all the times I played there myself, there was a this giant bass woof that was out of control for almost all of the set; presumably the band’s soundman, like all visiting soundmen, tried valiantly to wrestle this beast and mostly fell short. Not good. Couldn’t hear a lot of guitars for most of the night, to be honest, which is a real shame, because you know, it’s a rock band. But boy did I hear that bass woof, indistinguishable as bass guitar, kick drum, or Smaug’s roar. I’m grateful to this promoter for the shows they bring in, but that venue… man. Maybe some improvements are needed.
OK, that quibble aside: the crowd was also an interesting thing to observe. Toronto has the worst rock audiences in the WORLD. It fucking has to, because it can’t get worse. At most shows you’d think someone had propped up some wax mannequins, if you didn’t see them occasionally swig from their craft beers. This show was different. First of all, it appears that Anathema is the national rock band of Iran, and also that Latin Americans are gaga for the stuff. Huge chunks of the crowd consisted of young people of these ethnicities, sprinkled with your de rigeur aging prog honkies who could be heard declaiming loudly before the show about Steve Wilson this, Steve Wilson that, blah blah. I say none of this stuff about the different crowd in complaint; what it actually did was make it a proper concert, because people from these non-English-speaking cultures take their music VERY seriously, and that’s fucking great. The entire set was received rapturously with sustained applause, dancing and screaming. Good on ya all, you made our town look good for once. Usually I’m embarrassed; not that I’m demonstrative myself. I’m more of a listener. But someone has to freak out!
So, to the band/music.
There’s this Seinfeld episode in which Elaine is dating a guy whose favourite song is “Desperado”, and she breaks up with him because he keeps shushing her whenever it comes on the radio — she finds that offensive. “Untouchable” parts 1/2 from the Weather Systems album is my “Desperado”. If that’s on, shut the fuck up. So if, say, Anathema chose not to play this double-punch, I’d likely have marched out to their bus afterward, rapped on the door, and told them to go fuck themselves. But it’s clear these guys know how to please a crowd (though those songs being 1/2 in the set meant that the bass woof was at its max, but at least I could tell what songs they were), for the set was made up of a nice smattering of songs taken from the last four albums, with some even older stuff sprinkled in. Highlights included lead male singer/the sexy one Vincent Cavanagh beating the shit out of a tom-tom on an impassioned rendition of “Distant Satellites”; demure lady singer/the ethereal one Lee Douglas, who sounded just like the records (amazing, in other words), absolutely nailing “Lightning Song”; a huge rendition of “Endless Ways”; and the first time I’ve ever really enjoyed the torch song “A Natural Disaster” as much as it probably deserves. About five songs from The Optimist were played, just the right amount for a new release in a market you haven’t really visited before. Daniel Cavanagh introduced “Dreaming Light” as his favourite song, and dang, buddy, don’t I just agree with you. If that’s the only thing you ever wrote, you’d still have a secure place in the fucking firmament. God bless ya.
Lowlight? Well, if you read my other articles, you know I don’t go so much for that gothic metal early stuff, but the band decided to treat the crowd to some numbers from Alternative 4 (1998). While “Lost Control” and “Fragile Dreams” are good songs, to me they just aren’t mature works compared with the later stuff. Well, clearly I’m incorrect in this opinion, because the crowd went totally apeshit for that stuff, bellowing along with it with almost frightening glee. You see, in other countries, metal is KING. Remember that bizarrely impassioned reaction Rush got when they played Brazil (captured on DVD)? Well, that’s normal down there! Again, good on you guys, really.
Apparently Vincent Cavanagh was coming off a serious bout of flu that caused him to miss a gig, but you’d never have known it. Boy, that guy has some fucking pipes, and he knows what to do with them. And everything’s delivered with this steely intensity that belies his rather genial between-songs banter. In fact, Dan Cavanagh was the surprise; sure, he played a mean guitar, but he always came across as rather serious on film. Maybe touring brings out the nutso in him (it did with me), or he was on some bad cold meds, because the guy was having the time of his life, constantly egging the crowd on, spewing between-songs expletives in that Liverpudlian brogue, musing an incomplete thought about how Twitter once did not exist (and it was a happier world back then in many ways, folks), and interrupting his smoother sibling with more expletives when Vincent was trying to be tender and genuine in thanking us. Really quite a charming fellow in his own way, refusing to take himself or the occasion seriously.
I’m not sure what has led to the dividing of drum duties between John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso, but they both played really well and had some nice Phil Collins/Chester Thompson-type duo moments; and let’s not forget stalwart bass brother Jamie Cavanagh, who may have got caught in the bass woof but didn’t miss a note.
Conclusion: this band is just as special live as they are on disc; you feel like you’re at a gathering of chums rather than an epic rock concert. They may have deserved to play stadiums, but they’re grateful to have the hundreds in each town they play for, and the audience feels welcomed; despite the friendly vibe, the songs are delivered with passion, conviction and skill. I’m glad we made the trip!
Thank you, Anathema, for gracing us with this visit.