Gig Review: Anathema & Opeth, 15 November 2012

This was an event that I almost missed, because I was in a pretty sorry state on 15 November. I had been feeling fuzzy-headed and a bit shivery throughout the day; as gig time approached, I even thought about heading straight home from work to my bed.

Thankfully, I didn’t bail – but I was definitely questioning whether that was a sensible decision as I stood near the front of the crowd at Leeds Metropolitan University Student Union. And then Anathema took to the stage. Right from the start, the atmosphere was electric, with Danny Cavanagh geeing up the crowd even before they launched into their first song – I think it was Deep, from the Judgement album, although I’m not sure my fever-addled brain can be completely trusted on that. I clearly recall the next three songs, though: Thin Air, from 2010’s excellent Steven Wilson-produced We’re Here Because We’re Here, followed by Untouchable Parts 1 & 2, the opening tracks of latest album Weather Systems.

A remarkable thing happened as the band began to play these three songs. Those earlier feelings of illness and discomfort dwindled into insignificance beside the strong emotions stirred up by the music: a sense of absolute joy, of being exactly where I ought to be, witnessing this. And there was a tear or two, as well – an inevitable response to the achingly beautiful and poignant Untouchable Part 2. Isn’t the transformational power of music a wonderful thing?

That euphoria persisted for the remainder of their 45-minute set, which seemed to come to an end far too soon. There was another track from We’re Here Because We’re Here, the powerful A Simple Mistake (Steven Wilson’s favourite, apparently); a failed attempt at playing Closer – thanks to an equipment failure, which the band took in their stride; a couple of other old tunes whose titles escape me. And then it was over, leaving me wishing fervently that they had another hour to play.

Now the fuzzy head was back with a vengeance. As the temperature rose and the crowd pressed in anticipation of Opeth’s set, I wondered how long I could last before passing out and began considering my options for an early exit. But again the discomfort subsided as I became increasingly absorbed by the music.

Let me admit at this point that I’m not an Opeth devotee. I have three of their albums, so I was able to recognise songs such as The Devil’s Orchard and Famine from latest album Heritage, or Burden from Watershed – but that left at least 50% of their set unfamiliar. Yet this didn’t seem to matter, in the end. I found myself enjoying simply being there, soaking up the atmosphere, admiring the power, precision and intensity of their performance. I had a great view, and the civilised volume levels meant that it was possible to hear how well they played, something that can’t be said for many of the gigs I’ve attended in the past.

In summary: an excellent evening, despite its inauspicious beginning.

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