GIG REVIEW: Anathema & Alcest Live at Bataclan, Paris
The main act, Anathema, is slowly approaching its 30-year mark, formed originally as a doom metal band by the Cavanagh brothers before undergoing several personnel as well as stylistic changes and turning into the alternative and progressive rock band it has grown to fame for. The most renowned albums, such as Judgement and Alternative 4 came around the turn of the millennium, about the time when Lee Douglas joined as a vocalist, giving the band a completely different look. This gig was a part of the tour for The Optimist, a concept album following the footsteps of the earlier release A Fine Day to Exit.
Alcest, led by multi-instrumentalist Neige, was the opening act, and has had similar stylistic changes, originating as a black metal band but now producing a unique mélange of black and post metal. While not as well-known as Anathema, Alcest has been growing in popularity recently, and a long queue in front of the merch counter was a testament to that. The most recent album, Kodama, saw the return of harsh vocals in the music after a brief stint with pure cleans.
Alcest opened the night with the eponymous song from Kodama before Neige exposed his harsh vocals,singing a variety of songs from Kodama, Ecailles de lune and Les Voyages de l’Ame,and ended with “Délivrance”, from Shelter. Neigel may have a calming persona off-stage, but he was full of energy here,swaying sideways to his own tunes, while switching from clean, emotional vocals to piercing, harsh vocals in a switch of a beat. The lighting at the venue (Bataclan) was used to good effect, changing from bright red during the harsh vocals on “Oiseaux de Proie” to blue during “Eclosion” and to, fittingly, green during “Autre Temps”. The drum sound, one of the stand out aspects of Kodama, was crisp and loud here, while some of the subtle pieces on the guitar, such as the one at the outro of “Autre Temps”, tended to be drowned out if one was not listening attentively. At the end of the performance, in true shoegaze style, Neige got down on his knees for a bit, picking his strings while staring at the floor.
After that emotional performance, the crowd was pumped up for Anathema,and “San Francisco” got things cracking as the band members entered one-by-one to the thundering claps from the crowd. What has now become a concert staple, the band started off with the two-part “Untouchable” before covering a few songs from the new album. Daniel Cavanagh was in an enthusiastic mood, singing with vigor.However, his vocalist partner, Lee Douglas absolutely stole the show with her on-point and booming vocals. Vincent Cavanagh on the other hand was busy encouraging the crowd and it responded well, humming and ‘ooh-ooh-ing’ to tunes.
The brothers used the pauses between songs to exchange in some banter;for instance, Daniel remarked before “Dreaming Light”,“The next song is for the more serious ones, like the guy with the Emperor shirt in front”. They also occasionally gave us a peek into the history of the band: Before “Thin Air”, Daniel recalls that Paris, and with this song, was where Lee had her first live performance. The next on the setlist, “Lightning Song”, coincidentally, is my personal favorite of hers, the bass audibly buzzing to her voice. Right before the break, Daniel unveiled the vocoder for his live take on “Closer”. It was a blast to listen and always making me wonder what would Cynic sound like if it turned mellow.It even had an outro with those metallic-sounding riffs.
During the encore, Vincent brought out a drum and started to bang it during the midsection of “Distance Satellites”, making the song livelier the studio version. Before “A Natural Disaster”, Vincent asked us to switch on the flash on our cellphones and wave it around, which I found, as a metal concertgoer, quite cringey at the point but it turned out to be a song dedicated to the Bataclan shooting victims, a nice gesture which the crowd appreciated. The song ended with “Nous n’oublions pas” (We do not forget) on the screen, with the names of all the victims. The curtain then came down on the night with another concert staple, “Fragile Dreams”, leaving the crowd wanting for more.
Even though the older songs had a much bigger impact than the newer ones, I highly recommend the citizens of Europe to catch Anathema live on this tour. The members perform with great passion and emotion and do their best to keep the show entertaining. Lee Douglas is the highlight here, and was flawless in each of her songs, some of which are not the easiest to capture live. And Alcest being the supporting act is just the cherry on the top.