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.

Gig Review: Stabbing a Dead Horse, 30 October 2012

Last Tuesday evening, I took a short walk from my place of work to the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, that night’s venue for the Stabbing a Dead Horse tour. This unnerving title derives from the names of the tour’s participants: Trojan Horse, The Fierce & The Dead and Knifeworld. All three bands are leading lights of a vibrant ‘modern progressive’ movement here in the UK.

Trojan Horse opened proceedings with a cover of Neil Young’s Ohio before attacking their own material – four songs in total – with gusto. From the short and sweet staccato prog-punk of Fire from their latest EP through to the brooding 8-minute epic Mr Engels Says from their eponymous debut album, this was powerful, uncompromising stuff, played with an infectious manic energy by the Salford-based four-piece. I was particularly taken by the jerking and pirouetting of Lawrence Duke, who wielded his bass guitar as if it were an untamed beast, and by the mad dash of brother Eden through the audience during Mr Engels Says, as he attempted single-handedly to get us all singing the “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” lyric.

Then it was time for The Fierce & The Dead, who treated us to a masterclass in instrumental music drawn from their recent EP On VHS and from debut album If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe, with a new piece called Arc (Ark?) as a bonus. There is something very special about the aural landscapes created by this band. On the face of it, their sound is very sparse and modern, and yet somehow the solid groove created by Stu Marshall’s drums and Kev Feazey’s powerful bass combines with the hypnotic interplay of Steve Cleaton’s and Matt Stevens’ guitars to conjure beguilingly rich, intricate and expansive music. There was complete commitment on display here, and real showmanship, too – albeit of a less demonstrative kind than that of Trojan Horse. It was clear from TFATD’s interactions with the audience that they were having a blast, despite the low turn-out.

Headliners Knifeworld, performing as an eight-piece ensemble, brought the evening to a suitably exciting conclusion with a set drawing heavily on the terrific 2009 album Buried Alone: Tales Of Crushing Defeat and recent EP Clairvoyant Fortnight. It also featured an excellent new song, whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch.

Saxophones are relatively commonplace, but I’d hazard a guess that you don’t often see a rock band performing on stage with a bassoon. It’s a powerful symbol of just how unique Knifeworld are in their approach. I find it difficult to articulate just why I find them so interesting, but the fact that they are so gloriously unpredictable must have something to do with it. You never quite know where they are going with a song; heavy riffing can give way to a blast of Mellotron, then delicate vocal harmonies, then glockenspiel and sax, before guitar takes the reins again. A typical piece will feature unusual chord progressions and time signature changes galore. Any band trying to stuff that many ideas into a four- or five-minute tune is treading a fine line, but Knifeworld usually manage to stay the right side of it, leaving you exhilarated rather than exhausted.

The final verdict? A truly excellent night’s entertainment, and outstanding value for money at only £7 for the ticket. The only disappointment was that so few had shown up. I can only hope that the poor attendance doesn’t dissuade any of these bands from coming back to Leeds at some point in the future.