4th November 2015
Review & Photography by Grey Blackstone
I stood in the middle of the Cathedral, basking in the ambience of an 800-year-old building, admiring the arches as they bathed in a sweet purple glow and weaving through the bustling throng of people who had already gathered at the front of the stage in anticipation of tonight’s show.
Manchester Cathedral is a fantastic landmark for the city with beautiful architecture and a rich history; too long to go into in depth here but the current incarnation was founded in 1215, and had a number of additions and rebuilds to get to where it is today. Needless to say, it’s a superbly characteristic venue in which to host a musical performance in any form, but tonight’s is particularly fitting.
Earlier this year, Anathema released their “A Sort of Homecoming” concert film, directed by Lasse Hoile and shot in Liverpool Cathedral. As a consequence, the band have been touring around European Cathedrals and similar venues with the intention of bringing that experience as far as possible.
First on stage is Conrad Keely, of “…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead” fame. Conrad’s currently working on his debut solo album and tonight we got a chance to sample some of it prior to its release. To warm up the audience, however, he starts off with a cover of “Black Water Falls” by “The War on Drugs”. The original song is something of a modern take on a Dylan-esque style, which Conrad takes advantage of by grinding it up and injecting it with a little country folk feeling. Here, it’s played a little faster, giving just enough energy to carry it off as the introductory song but still retaining the sentimental tone of the original.
Over the next few minutes we were treated to a mix of Conrad’s soon-to-be-released solo material, and classic covers such as ‘O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prarie’. His own material fits with the soulful and slightly gritty country theme of the covers he’d chosen, and there’s a real air of authenticity to the music. I could just picture him, caked in dust and bloody of hand, squinting into the Texan sunset. The crowd were extremely enthused and he likely won over a lot of new fans, myself included.
Between sets the air was filled with brooding ambient music seeping from the towering speaker system and the excited murmuring of the crowd and, before long, Vincent, Danny and Lee take to the stage to cheerful applause. Framed by stone arches and swathed in red hue, they give us a haunting rendition of The Beatles’ “Because”, picked apart by pregnant pauses which instilled a certain tension into the song.
As the last note fades into the ether we have a brief moment without words before which they ease into “The Lost Song (Part 2)”. It’s a gentle song but is played with an imbuement of emotion which bubbles forth as they play. The unique acoustics of the venue carry Lee’s voice over the crowd, soaring on the beautiful melodies and strengthened by the ambient reverberation from these historic walls. Following this, they give an introduction which is almost drowned out by the ovation afforded to them, finally dying down until a lone fan loudly professes their love for the band.
From here the set list continues to match the “A Sort of Homecoming” show, with both parts of “Untouchable”, the latter of which allows Danny the time to shine with his piano intro, holding just the right combination of bittersweet melody and melancholy chords. The crowd are invited to sing along and do so gladly, forging a connection of spirit between audience and performers.
As the concert continues, the cool night air breezes refreshingly into the surprisingly warm hall. Some of the audience clap or sing along to their favourite songs, some stand in silent contemplative appreciation, and others sit against the walls and pillars, coiled in embrace. The atmosphere is of a tender and peaceful community, reflecting the message of hope that lies beneath the anguished tone of the music.
After “The Beginning and The End” comes perhaps my personal favourite moment of the night. After an intriguingly vague introduction, Danny starts by pounding out a familiar rhythm on the guitar body, using a pedal to loop it, before accompanying himself by picking out a laconic melody. Just as the pieces fall into place, Lee completes the puzzle and starts to sing the unforgettable “Glory Box” by Portishead. A smouldering siren, the words pour from her throat as smoke from a steady-growing flame, transfixing and captivating all.
During the chorus the fire is fanned and emotion bursts forth, filling the Cathedral with energy and sending skin crawling. Feeding from this, Danny tears the room apart with a searing solo, fortified with distortion adding just the right amount of rawness to the sound.
To finish off, all else goes silent as Lee recites the final line of the song, and exuberant uproar breaks out of the congregation.
Through the whole show Vincent’s performance has been incredible, but on the next song, “Anathema”, it really shows the breadth of his talent. His voice sears through the night air, so impassioned and pushed to its very limits that during the chorus it brings many of the audience to tears; it’s always been a poignant song but to see it performed live in this manner against the mise-en-scène of the cathedral it’s a profoundly moving experience, one for which the audience are audibly thankful.
With a clever use of looping pedals the latter portion of the song begins to play out in reverse until it fades below the cheers.
Finally, in a testament to the band both musically and personally, they are allowed to play the entirety of the set despite the venue staff having realised it overruns the Cathedral’s normally watertight curfew. Hearing this the crowd are overjoyed, and the final two songs are relished.
In conclusion, tonight’s experience was a unique and thoroughly satisfying one, with a pervading atmosphere of community and a fantastically distinctive venue giving rise to a stellar and unmissable performance. Refreshing in both sight and sound, and offering a rare take on the band’s classic songs, it’s no wonder the tour is going so well.
–“A Sort of Homecoming” is available in a variety of formats from Anathema’s official store.