Anathema at The Opera House in Toronto, Ontario – 21 August 2017
Review and Photos by DeadFly Media
Up until about 4 months ago I had never heard of Anathema but our photographer is a big prog and alternative rock guy, and so I have been exposed to (sometimes subjected to!) music that I dismissed for a long time as self-indulgent and boring. “This is the stuff balding old guys with ponytails listen to while smoking a doobie,” thought I. But when friends and colleagues are passionate about music and bands then I’ll give it a go and listen. So I’ve had them on a lot over the last month or so. 11 albums later and their sound has evolved, aged and mellowed like most of us, from “doom metal” to “ambient rock”. Beautifully orchestrated and emotive, it is a visceral experience listening to them. I am really enjoying their new album The Optimist, so I was eager to see and hear how this would translate live.
As we arrived at The Opera House in Toronto to see the headliners from the U.K., I found myself rather intrigued by the crowd gathered outside: hipsters, hippies, rockers, young, old, and also large numbers of South Americans and Middle Easterners. Certainly not your typical ‘rock’ crowd.
Following on the heels of opening U.S. band Silver Snakes (kicking ass and taking names to get things started), they assembled onstage gradually to the intro of “San Francisco” and then moved into “Untouchable 1”, delivered with believably sorrowful vocals by the forever energetic frontman Vincent Cavanagh, and “Untouchable 2”, where the entire audience sang along with angelic-voiced Lee Douglas (who moves seamlessly from angelic counterpart to torch singer) which set the mood for the night.
The musicianship is impressive with Daniel Cardoso and John Douglas (brother of Lee) both respectively interchanging their role on drums and keyboards across the evening, who, along with Jamie Cavanagh on bass (yes, they’re all brothers) form a solid foundation to the multi-layered, eclectic sound. While Vincent carries the audience along with his boundless energy and the majority of the vocals, brother Daniel Cavanagh connects with us via his guitar and his words, in the form of his lyrics and his banter which included a plea to put down the mobiles so no one would have to watch the show through a cell phone screen like he had to do in Paris when seeing U2! He declared his love for a Canadian weather reporter and then included all of us in his proclamations of love and appreciation and then performed on bended knee close up and personal to those in the front row, and man can he play!!
As with any band with a healthy album catalogue, I can’t imagine the task of choosing a setlist is easy, and regardless of what you choose there will be disappointment (they didn’t play any of my 3 fave songs, but I found a few more to add to my faves along the way!) They weave a wonderful sonic pathway through a well-balanced mixture of classics and new material; “Leaving It Behind”, “Endless Ways” and the sublime “The Optimist” showcase the new material wonderfully, before cranking up the gears and the audience for “Thin Air” who then head-banged and fist-pumped through “Lightening Song”.
The audience showed no signs of slowing down all night and sang (many with closed-eye passion), clapped, and jumped and cheered their way through the evening filled with many fantastic tracks and a wonderful stand out moment during “Distant Satellites” featuring Vincent thundering out a great drum solo in competition with Daniel and John. Also, just when you think it cannot get any better suddenly we are treated to snippets of Lilac Wine and Shine On You Crazy Diamond beautifully woven into a long winding introduction into “A Natural Disaster” as part of the finale, and I dare you not to have goose-bumps by the time Lee is finished wringing every emotion out of that beautiful song before they go ‘old school’ to march us to the finish with the haunting “Lost Control” and “Destiny” and close out the night with everyone jumping up and down to the pounding beats of “Fragile Dreams”.
The show is filled with subtle, but beautiful imagery projected behind the band to punctuate and add to the mood rather than overstate and compensate for the performers. It is a powerful show, a sensory experience, it makes you think and it makes you feel. Music connects us and reinforces what we have in common in a time when much of the world is divided and hurt and angry.
The band are very vocally appreciative of their fans and expressed as much to us in Toronto. They’ve only been here once before and are amazed that their exposure has been mostly via the fans and word of mouth rather than from major label support. They wrap up North America in Philadelphia on Aug 25 and then play some shows in Europe in the Fall. Vincent promises us all that they have tentative plans to return after they perform on the “Cruise to the Edge” out of Florida in February of 2018, and with the screams and cheers, we promised that we’ll be waiting for them. We, the optimists!
- San Francisco (intro)
- Untouchable part 1
- Untouchable part 2
- Leaving It Behind
- Endless Ways
- The Optimist
- Thin Air
- Lightning Song
- Dreaming Light
- Cant Let Go
- Beginning And The End
- Firelight (intro)
- Distant Satellite
- A Natural Disaster
- Lost Control
- Fragile Dreams