Initially, it was hard to assess what mood Anathema were in when they first hit the stage at The Gov on Saturday night. Guitarist and main songwriter, Daniel Cavanagh, was tired and irritable suffering from jet lag and seemingly angry at the fact that travelling around Australia takes so much time, and that schedules are hectic when you are trying to cram in all major centres in such a relatively short space of time. His greeting to the fans was full of choice, unprintable Aussie invective delivered with a cryptic half-smile.
Luckily for us, he did not take out his frustrations on the small devoted band of Anathema converts who were waiting expectantly in front of the stage, but he let us know that the band’s manager may be wise to stay out of his way for a while!
His brother, Vincent, adopted a more diplomatic and conciliatory stance, and flattered us by saying what a beautiful part of the world we live in, and the tension slowly dissipated a little so we could enjoy the showcase of their new album, The Optimist, as well find satisfaction in a range of tracks from across their now expansive back catalogue.
There is no doubt that, when Anathema are on song, their music soars into an intensely emotional place, and they bring their audience along into the deeply moving, soulful state they so deftly conjure.
Building on looping keyboard riffs and hypnotic drum rhythms, both vocalists, Vincent and Lee Douglas, employ a balance between volume and sensitivity and become a part of the irresistible flow of each song where neither dominates or demands centre stage attention, but rather add subtle flavours to the music, punctuating each piece with impressionistic lines or images that enhance the feeling being evoked.
The new album is a conceptual piece based on the mysterious figure who may, or may not, have taken his own life and built around the clues contained within the cover photograph on their 2001 album, A Fine Day To Exit. It made perfect sense then, that songs from the earlier album were featured in the central part of the set, and that these songs were amongst the highlights of the two-hour show.
During the performance, we witnessed Daniel stumble across a new riff that had to be hurriedly recorded on Vincent’s iPhone, so there may be an Adelaide link on the next Anathema album! The band revealed that’s how Springfield, a key track from the latest album, had started out too.
Whilst the main set was well sequenced, the final flurry of songs of the night were clearly chosen to bring the evening to an emotional highpoint: Distant Satellites, Springfield, Back To The Start, and the magnificent climax of the show, Untouchable 1 + 2, throughout which the mobile phone free crowd sang so loudly that, if you closed your eyes, you could imagine there were actually thousands in attendance, not just the hundred or so crammed around the stage, provided one of the most memorable live experiences of the year.
Daniel’s mood had clearly changed as he jumped into the crowd to shake hands and high-five his fans.
Vincent asked us all to pose for a memento photo at the end of the show, and he was clearly moved, commenting that travelling 10,000 miles was worth it when a crowd gave the band so much love.
Let’s hope it gave them enough encouragement to bring them back to our shores for a fourth time in the not too distant future.
Earlier, however, an excruciatingly dischordant set by Overview Effect had got the evening off to a pretty bad start.
Unfortunately, there were no blackboards handy on which those in the audience could drag their fingernails down, in order to create some comparatively harmonious notes to balance out the bum notes and off-key caterwauling emanating from the stage throughout the interminable half hour that they were plugged in.
Anathema played The Gov on Saturday December 9 2017.