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Space Rocks: Anathema, Amplifier & Voyager
Live At The IndigO2, 21.09.19

Space RocksSpace Rocks is an event sponsored by the European Space Agency taking place a the IndigO2 club at the O2. There were three sessions, the first being aimed at a younger audience, the second being interviews with people such as Astronaut Tim Peake, Rocket Scientist Kate Underhill and Author Lucy Hawkings. The third session in the evening was a gig featuring Voyager, Amplifier and Anathema.

The IndigO2 is a lovely, modern venue with a capacity of 2,350. I chatted with friends in the Space bar before being ejected to queue to get back in and once through the metal detector arches I settle into my King's Row seat which is fairly central in the second row of the balcony.

I have never heard of Voyager before. Hailing from Perth in Australia, the five piece play catchy, progressive hard rock. Vocalist and keyboard player, Daniel Estrin, looks like a young Sebastian Bach and guitarist Scott Kay is wearing a jumper and looks like an accountant.

Don't let this put you off though, their eclectic mix of music was really good. Bass player Alex Canion also provided vocals, including at one point a fantastic death metal roar and he and Daniel sang great harmonies in a couple of songs. Ashley Doodkorte on drums laid down a solid foundation and guitarist Simone Dow just rocked out. Daniel kept picking up his pink keytar to play it, although I thought he would drop it as never actually managed to put the strap over his shoulder. Somehow he managed not to. Voyager bounced around the stage energetically looking like they were having a ball and made good use of their allotted half hour. I shall be checking them out further.

I then witnessed one of the quickest changeovers ever as Voyager's equipment was swiftly dismantled and Amplifier's was wheeled on, already set up. Instruments were tested while we were treated to a series of space-themed songs over the PA. Sel Balomir appeared and checked his guitar and a huge array of effects pedals were working before standing patiently waiting for Phil Oakey and Georgio Moroder's Electric Dreams to finish. The compere came on to introduce the band and pointed out that despite all the bits of genuine space paraphernalia on display, Sel's pedal board is the most complex thing in the building!

I must admit I was a bit worried when I saw Amplifier were playing. Not because I don't like them or that they aren't a great band, because I do and they are. But showcasing their complex, many faceted sound was going to be tough and so it proved. Given the wide variety of their music they played five very similar songs. Sel is an amazing songwriter and guitarist, Alexander Redhead lays down a thunderous bass and Matt Brobin on the drums keeps impeccable time. From up on the balcony it's amazing to see Sel's effects pedal tapdance. How he knows what to press and when I don't know and although his set up is famous for almost always breaking down tonight everything behaved itself.

They use almost a third of their allotted time with the slow burn of Extra Vehecular which builds and builds imperceptibly. We get the groovy Kosmos from Trippin' With Dr Faustus too, as well as the subtle Old Movies and (rather unsurprisingly given the nature of the event) the epic UFO, from their debut. Personally I loved their set but it's a shame they didn't play something like Interglacial Spell or Magic Carpet just to vary the pace a little for those in attendance who didn't know their music. Hopefully they will have picked up a few new fans as they are such an underrated band and deserve to be much bigger than they are.

As the closing squeals of UFO fade away, the equipment is quickly wheeled off and the stage cleared ready for the headliners. Jerry Ewing and a man from ESA both made short speeches about the event before the lights go down and Anathema's intro music starts. The musicians eventually appear on stage accompanied by violinist Anna Phoebe and launch into a version of Hans Zimmer's One Day from the film Interstellar. We have been promised a special show and this is a fantastic way to begin it as Anna jigs and bounces around the stage, sawing maniacally at her instrument, complementing the other band members perfectly. The three Cavanagh brothers gather centre stage and she joins them, the four of them totally locked together and rocking out - a great sight.

Anna departs the stage and the band pitch straight into the propulsive Can't Let Go from The Optimist. That's an album that disappointed me when it was released. I didn't feel it was up there with recent output but the three songs aired tonight (The others being the title track and Springfield) sound just as good as their other material and fit perfectly in the set.

However it's first appearance of vocalist Lee Douglas for Lost Song, Part III, that sees things really take off. The driving, off kilter rhythms and Vincent and Lee's passionate vocals, push the song forward. Not for the last time tonight their gorgeous harmonies send shivers down my spine. Their voices complement each other perfectly and Lee gives Anathema a whole new dimension.

Anathema's songs range from the melancholic to the uplifting, from gentle to heavy but the one thing every Anathema song has in common is emotion. From the spiralling passion of the magnificent love song Thin Air to the aching loss of Untouchable I and II, they know exactly how to tap into something deep inside the soul. Daniel Cavanagh is such a deft songwriter, always willing to push the barriers of the band's sonic palette. Some of his music is so bewitchingly fragile but some of the heavy pieces, like closing section of Closer, hark back to that bygone age when Anathema were one of the big three Northern English Doom bands.

This special show is titled The Space Between Us and has added visuals created by multimedia artist Kristina Pulejkova on the video screen at the back. There's ESA footage as well as spiralling patterns, weird effects and beautiful animations, all of which catch the eye and enhance the music. This necessarily means the light show is subdued, with no spotlights on the band. Indeed a couple of times Vincent asks for the lights to be turned down a bit.

The musicians themselves are uniformly excellent. I'm not sure there are many bands with such flexible members. Both Danny and Vincent play guitar and keyboards as do drummers John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso at various points. When they both drum at the same time, like the build up to the climax of Closer it sounds so powerful. It's nice to see Jamie back in the band after a bit of a break. His bass playing is so powerful and there always seems to be something missing when he's not there.

As already mentioned adding Lee Douglas gives Anathema an extra dimension with her vocals as she has a strong, powerful voice. She sashays and dances around the stage when not singing and when not involved in a song leaves the stage entirely, leaving Vinnie to sing. Danny has a great voice too but apart from the occasional back up vocal he is content to leave singing to others. He does speak to the audience quite a lot tonight, cracking jokes and urging us to stand up, clap along and make more noise.

In their hour and a half the band tear through classic after classic. Just to prove Daniel isn't the only capable songwriter in the band the play one of my favourite tracks, The Storm Before The Calm which was written by John. The song has a beautiful ebb and flow with an extended instrumental break after the second "it's getting colder…" chorus. The song gets heavier and heavier, Danny's guitar battling the oscillating keyboard sounds and Jamie's thrumming bass. The band reach a crescendo before it all collapses into the acoustic lull at the start of the song's third section and they build it up again via Vincent's impassioned vocals and Danny's chiming riff.

It's not quite all plain sailing tonight. The band start the industrial-tinged Closer which is perfect until the computer that processes Vinnie's voice for the song says "no" and makes a rather sad squelching sound. Danny stops the song saying "You can't ask a computer to do a Scouser's work". For a while it doesn't look like the problem will be fixed and I felt like shouting out "have you tried turning it off and on again?" but suddenly the MacBook leaps back to life and the band pick the song back up. Once Vinnie' s vocals are finished, he takes his frustrations out on his guitar, pummeling it into submission and crouching down to force noise from his effects pedals as the song reaches a thunderous climax.

Anathema

The atmosphere is brought back down again with the A Natural Disaster, a showcase for Lee's exquisite vocals. We are asked to take our phones out and put the lights on, as has now become tradition during this song and the IndigO2 looks lovely with many white lights shining. Anna Phoebe reappears to add mournful violin to this broken-hearted ballad as Lee pours her heart into the lines "No matter what I say, No matter what I do, I can't change what happened…". This leads into the electronic clatter of Distant Satellites, Vinnie's dreamy vocals belying the desolate isolation of the lyrics. The song takes shape around Danny's piano playing and the militaristic double drumming as gradually an intense zenith is reached and swiftly followed by Untouchable I and II, the former a glorious lament to a lost one, the latter a delicate and haunting counterpoint to part one.

I thought that might be the end but the band have one more surprise for us as some familiar chords ring out, followed by Professor Stephen Hawking's instantly recognisable electronic tones… "For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals, Then something happenend which unleashed the power of our imagination… We learned to talk". Anathema's version of Pink Floyd's Keep Talking is an apt and powerful way to close what has been an excellent show.

This has been a great evening. The IndigO2 is a lovely venue and the sound has been crystal clear throughout the three sets. There's been a wonderful atmosphere with both Voyager and Amplifier getting rousing applause from an audience that isn't necessarily familiar with either band. Both those bands have given great performances but the night belongs to Anathema; for them a triumphant last gig of the year.
Anathema set list: Day One / Can't Let Go / The Lost Song, Part 3 / The Optimist / Thin Air Springfield / The Storm Before the Calm / Closer / A Natural Disaster / Distant Satellites / Untouchable, Part I / Untouchable, Part II / Keep Talking
Anathema Phone Lights photo © 2019 Caroline Traitler Photography. Background photo of Anathema © Scarlet Page.

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