Anathema’s fans have been waiting years on end for the band to do a U.S. tour, a wish that nearly came true in 2011 when the U.K. act was to support Blackfield in America. However, brothers Vincent and Daniel Cavanagh had to fulfill the obligation as an acoustic duo when the rest of Anathema unfortunately had to stay behind due to immigration issues -— a noble effort that showed the command the siblings can hold over a crowd with just two guitars and their voices. But the tour wound up being scrapped after Blackfield’s Steven Wilson needed to take bereavement leave due to the death of his father. That failed attempt contributed to high hopes for band and fans alike when Anathema took the stage for its first New York show at Gramercy Theatre on Saturday (Sept. 14), and this time no one walked away disappointed.
Anathema probably hadn’t needed any support to fill the sold-out room, but the lineup turned out to be gold. The venue was already full, with people standing at quiet attention while opening band Mamiffer performed, under a magenta spotlight, a set that consisted of Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner creating a continuous hypnotic drone with an organ and her voice. Gramercy became more tightly packed for French band Alcest, whose propulsive rhythms, repetitive jamming, screamed vocals and vaporous melodies rendered the language barrier nonexistent. Playing nearly as long as the headliner, the group attracted followers who yelled requests in its native tongue.
The creative breakthrough headliners Anathema realized with quasi companion albums “We’re Here Because We’re Here” and “Weather Systems” places those records a galaxy beyond its already prodigious catalog. And the quintet primarily stuck with those albums, taking the stage with “Untouchable, Part 1,” a cantering paean to letting an eternal love go. Forget blasé posturing: The Brothers Cavanagh sported obvious gratitude that the crowd mirrored with every shouted word and pumped fist. Singer Lee Douglas, who traded vocal duties with the Cavanaghs, earned her own cheers with her performance during the quieter “Untouchable, Part 2.” The rocking resumed with “The Gathering of the Clouds” and “Lightening Song,” and the repeated crescendos of “Thin Air” fulfilled its studio promise of being a cathartic, headbanging crowd-pleaser, so satisfyingly turbulent the audience needed the breather that came with piano love letter “Dreaming Light.”
Despite its current material exploring love and enlightenment, Anathema knows that fans have been following it since the ’90s, when its music deeply explored blackness and anguish. That fidelity was rewarded with the new wave-ish “Deep” and lamenting “A Natural Disaster,” which Douglas turned into a one-woman show of soulful despair. The band continued driving a roller coaster that careened between barreling rock and lofty arias by jamming to “The Beginning and the End” and the drifting rumination “A Simple Mistake.”
It wouldn’t have been a mistake to close on the daydreamy note that was “Internal Landscapes,” but instead Daniel told Gramercy crowd to “get their dancing shoes on” for “heavy as f*ck” foot-stomper “Closer.” The ensuing frenzy was further stoked by “Fragile Dreams,” which incised the audience to lose its sh*t as Anathema pumped every ounce of energy into the propulsive finale.
“I’ll never forget this,” Daniel told the crowd, promising that the band will return one day. The audience, no doubt, will be holding him to his word.