Anneke van Giersbergen in Manchester live review

Anneke van Giersbergen and Tony Wright prog out at the former Factory Records HQ.

A crowd watching a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Tonight’s support introduces himself as VerseChorusVerse, but the more cunning identify the solo acoustic performer as Tony Wright, former frontman with And So I Watch You From Afar. The name was chosen as a joke, given ASIWYFA were pretty structure-less in their instrumental meanderings, but Wright’s solo material places him in more moribund blues territory and the moniker seems less a pun, more a label.

Dutch songsmith Annette Van Giersbergen is heavily applauded before she’s played a note. Despite her numerous solo and collaborative accomplishments, it seems she’s still best known for that career-defining stint in The Gathering. Opening with that group’s My Electricity and equipped with a lone acoustic, her trademark airy, crystalline vocal quickly elevates a simplistic, strummed rendition to captivating heights.

This stripped-back show would leave a lesser performer exposed. Van Giersbergen, however, lends pitch-perfect clarity and grace to anything her vocal touches. A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s folky fingerpicker Songbird proves she’s at her best in her natural range. Elsewhere it doesn’t always serve the material well – for instance, the graphic content of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, in which the driving of a knife, edgy and dull, in ‘a six-inch valley through the middle of my skull’ sounds positively angelic.

The crowd are also in full voice tonight, joining in The Gathering’s Saturnine unprompted, much to the delight of our host. More Gathering follows, as do more covers (Sex On Fire), but it’s a shame that, given the acoustic nature of The Gentle Storm’s material – her recent project with Arjen Lucassen – those songs are ignored this evening. More in our ball park is Devin Townsend’s Ih-Ah!, which is relatively untested (“If I fuck up, don’t put it on YouTube!”) but the most adept in terms of Van Giersbergen’s acoustic playing.

A trio of covers close the show, the best of which, U2’s Drowning Man, finds a new, eery resonance in this low-key arrangement. Van Giersbergen seems genuinely touched by the hearty applause, so while it’s been a mixed bag artistically, for pure ear-candy there’s clearly not a lug-hole in the house that feels hard done by.