I’ve seen hundreds of bands play live. This isn’t a claim to fame or a “I know more about music than you” contention. It’s a simple matter of fact and a consequence of my age (look, I do know more about music than you, of course, but that’s a whole other debate).
Having seen hundreds of bands play live, I know I’m now supposed to have the eye of the well trained cynic, the readily available anecdote to hand about how a band “wasn’t as good as when I saw them in the Fox and Hounds in Droitwich in 1984” that supposedly makes me feel superior but makes you think I’m a complete git. Thankfully, I don’t have either. And thank God for that because, it lets me judge openly and, hopefully, fairly and enthusiastically.
So, here goes: ladies and gentlemen, Anathema were little short of magnificent at Koko. Magnificent and majestic. I will get to them in a bit. First, the support.
It was my first experience of Manchester based outfit, Amplifier so I’m not going to claim some deep knowledge of their back catalogue or reputation. But I do know this: they make one hell of a racket. I love going to gigs with little or no expectation and then being completely blown away by what you witness on stage. Amplifier were a fabulous case in point. Dressed rather snazzily in their black shirt, black tie combo, they appear to be what might happen if Interpol met Mogwai (with whom they share some of the same post punk mentality) and half of Metallica in a crowded pub. Their songs veer almost precariously between the highly melodious to the deeply heavy often within the same verse. It’s immersive, embracing music and I was utterly thrilled by it. As one wag said to me, “they could be the headline band”. Fair point, well made. On any other day, this might have been true. But tonight wasn’t any other day. Nor any other band. Nor any other gig.
We came to be entertained; we left, utterly exhilarated, having felt we had had some kind of epiphany. Anathema had brought their tour, in support of their exemplary “Weather Systems” album, to London and London had turned out in excellent numbers to welcome the Liverpudlians. This was a gig to savour, to rejoice, bask and bathe in the brilliance of.
From the playful Pink Floyd intro tape we sailed effortlessly into the epic “Untouchable Parts One” and “Two”. It was spellbinding. You got the sense, almost immediately, that this was a band not just confident in their own ability but thoroughly ready to take risks for great rewards; it was a ploy that paid off handsomely. The set list was mainly driven around the new record and its predecessor “We’re Here Because We’re Here” but longer term Anathema fans will have doubtless been delighted to hear a thrilling version of “Flying”, a delicate and heartwarming “Closer” and a fabulous “Emotional Winter”. Personally, as a newer fan, I loved the sublime brilliance of “Internal Landscapes” and a scintillating “Lightning Song” but I’m sure others will have their personal bests from what was just a phenomenal performance.
Like all the very best bands, Anathema understand the power of music to lift the spirit, tug the heart string, fuel the brain and rush the blood. Like all the very best bands, Anathema know how to construct a set list that is neither obvious nor contrived but draws you in to their world like a long lost friend. Anathema make emotional music and the response from the knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd was equally charged with passion.
Like I said, I have seen hundreds of gigs but sometimes it’s good to take stock and consider just how lucky we are. Lucky to have been at Koko‘s on a Thursday night in May. Lucky to have a band as special as Anathema. Beguiling, bewitching, brilliant. One to tell the grandchildren about. An unqualified, unreserved 10. Magical.