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Review: Anathema, Alcest @ Gramercy Theatre 9.14.13

When news broke about Anathema's co-headlining tour with Alcest, many people in the metal and prog rock communities scratched their heads in sheer disbelief. Two completely opposite styles embarking on a full North American tour? This run probably would have been more feasible to many if it were doom metal-era Anathema on board. The only tour that easily makes this trek seem normal in comparison was the one involving noise pop act Sleigh Bells, black metal band Liturgy and California DJ Diplo early last year. Saturday night's gig at Gramercy Theatre wasn't out of the ordinary since New York City knows a thing or two about mixed shows.

Mamiffer, which features Isis vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner and his wife Faith Coloccia, was quite the intriguing opener for an already diverse tour. The act's experimental/ambient-metal sound seemed haunting at times with the aid of Faith's mesmerizing vocals and dark organs. The duo played two songs during their 30 minute set although their first song felt more like three songs intertwined with a chilling ambient wall of sound. Aaron delivered murky guitar blasts and even managed to use a violin bow to deliver some eerie tones. This is the kind of act that easily sound more fleshed out live than on the recordings.

The sold out crowd at Gramercy Theatre couldn't move an inch during Alcest's mindwarping set. Neige, the mastermind behind Alcest, was all smiles that evening with his thick French accent protruding whenever he talked to the crowd. Much like Mamiffer, Alcest's music seem to take a life of its own in a live atmosphere; tracks like "Souvenirs d'un autre monde" and "Summer Glory" were somewhat therapeutic and soothing to the senses. The crowd's heavy reaction to each track made it feel like Alcest were playing a sold out headlining gig at Madison Square Garden. The band also played two remarkable new tracks, "Opale" and set closer "Delivrance", from their upcoming album Shelter.

"We have waited so long for this moment, New York", said Anathema frontman Vincent Cavanagh during the band's highly anticipated performance. This was the first full band North American tour for the U.K. alternative/progressive rock group since a handful of performances back in 2001. Anathema did return to the States a decade later but were unfortunately reduced to an acoustic duo due to members not being able to travel overseas. The same scenario nearly happened with this current tour. A few days before tour kickoff, the group stated that drummer John Douglas and bassist Jamie Cavanagh were unable to partake on the trek. Luckily for Anathema, keyboardist Daniel Cardoso moved to the drums and brought bassist Tobel Lopes along to fill out the other vacant slot. The keyboard section was split between Vincent and guitarist Daniel Cavanagh.

Opening their set with complimenting songs "Untouchable, Part One" and "Untouchable, Part Two", Anathema finally gave the performance that many in the crowd waited over ten years for: full blown rock and roll. Lee Douglas captivated the audience with her enchanting voice while Daniel received applause for his enthusiastic stage presence. While the band continued their set with tunes from their latest album Weather Systems, they did follow up with "Thin Air" and "Dreaming Light" from their 2010 release We're Here Because We're Here. The band dipped into their 1998 release Judgement and dedicated "Deep" for the few in attendance who followed the first two dates of the tour.

Before getting into "A Natural Disaster", Vincent had the house lights turned off while a sea of cell phones and lighters acted as the only light source in the building. Even though Lee's vocals were already very engaging in the early part of the set, she really brought her A-game during this number. Many folks in the crowd were discussing how she managed to completely overshadow the band towards the end. The following track "The Beginning and The End" would have been a stale performance if it wasn't for Daniel's dynamic swagger on the guitar.

After "A Simple Mistake", the band left the stage with the opening vocal sample for "Internal Landscapes" playing before returning to engage in the rest of the tune. Vincent took a stab at the keyboards during "Closer" which had him using the trusty vocoder. The sound at Gramercy Theatre was quite sublime as every word belted out through the instrument was heard loud and clear. The farthest that Anathema dove into their genre-shifting discography was their 1998 release Alternative 4 with "Fragile Dreams" being the night's closing song. The crowd moved their feet and headbanged profusely while Daniel turned his mic towards them so they can sing the song's chorus before its abrupt end. Cheers erupted from the crowd as the band stayed on stage for their final bow. For some, this show was a spiritual awakening. For others, this show was a way to show respect for one of U.K.'s magnificent prog rock acts. For Anathema, it was simply getting the monkey off their back and finally giving their loyal fans in America the whole nine yards.