Anathema at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - live review

Anathema and Alcest bring the crowds

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(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

Given the number of prog gigs on this week, it’s reassuring to see fans queuing around the block for Anathema tonight. And many of them are here for Alcest as well.

Coloured lights and smoke flood the stage as the opening band’s silhouettes solidify, and their dreamy soundscapes transport the audience from a damp London night to a warm beach in southern France. Theirs is a bubbling brew of Floydian psych, shoegaze and dreampop that’s enhanced by fuzz and highlights from last year’s Kodama. It’s a fantastic showcase of their talents, and the perfect prelude to the headliners.

Anathema are a handful of shows into the European tour for the Prog Award-winning The Optimist and are clearly enjoying their new live set. Slick footage of the sea is projected onto a large screen behind them as the sun-soaked opener San Francisco segues into the melancholic two-part Untouchable.

The atmosphere is electric, and more than a few members of the audience appear to have something in their eyes. “Sing it, London!” shouts frontman Vincent Cavanagh, grinning from ear-to-ear. And we do. Anathema are a great live band, but tonight they’ve raised their game even further. Daniel Cavanagh later tells the audience that “Steven Wilson’s sound guy” is mixing them, and it shows.

But about three-quarters of the way through, the atmosphere on stage shifts very suddenly. Although their line-up has been stable for a few years, the six-piece have had nearly as many personnel changes as Yes. Tonight should have been a show of tight musicianship and stunning vocal performances – Lee Douglas’ sparkling delivery on Lightning Song is particularly worthy of a mention – but that’s almost overshadowed by what appears to be a power struggle between the two elder Cavanaghs. A feisty Daniel argues with an audience member who tries to start a mosh pit during the melancholic Thin Air, then almost starts his own by heading into the crowd for Dreaming Light. Vincent tries to laugh it off, but seems irked by his elder brother’s behaviour.

During the encore, Daniel takes centre stage to play the intro to Shine On You Crazy Diamond before leading into Fragile Dreams, which results in some banter about which one of them is the frontman. Undeterred, he takes charge of a second encore and accompanies Lee for a stunning rendition of Portishead’s Glory Box, before sneaking back for a powerful solo performance of The Exorcist from his own new album, Monochrome. We’re certainly getting our money’s worth, but no one’s quite sure if the show has finished. Prog even overhears someone joking that tonight’s gig has “almost as many endings as The Lord Of The Rings”.

Could there be another storm brewing in the Anathema camp?