Anathema + Balloons Kill Babies
The Triffid, Brisbane
29 October 2015
Review by Salla Harjula
Photo by Gwendolyn Lee (Sydney)
I had my doubts about this night. Don’t get me wrong, Anathema are achingly beautiful at their best. I’ve seen Balloons Kill Babies once before and they entirely killed it. But how either would translate into an acoustic night without erring into frankly monotonous territory, I wasn’t sure.
Well. Colour me mistaken.
I step into a hushed Triffid in the middle of a Balloons Kill Babies set already on its way. The instrumental trio has temporarily sprouted into a foursome with the addition of a violinist, to fill the space in the band’s psychedelic sound, left wide open without their signature effects and textures.
What a fantastic choice. The material works much better than expected with the pared-down sound alone – but the violin gives it a gorgeous lustre, it definitely needs to sound fully finished. Yes, I was wrong. Balloons Kill Babies ace it acoustic.
Then Anathema enter. It’s the simplest line-up. Brothers Vincent and Danny Cavanagh with guitars and their voices, Lee Douglas supplying vocals on the third mic.
This arrangement oscillates through the night; sometimes with Vincent disappearing to give Lee’s croons the floor, sometimes Lee giving way to Vincent’s somehow deep yet fragile voice.
The only constant is Danny, who is maybe the most unobtrusive powerhouse in a band ever. It’s him who really stars tonight. His guitar solos the most expressive, his loops on his little sampler the most haunting. The loops he creates by thumping his guitar’s soundbox, burbling little tunes out of his keyboard, plucking a few strings, they’re simple as anything. But it’s their deft weaves that often swell the songs into a truly hypnotic experience.
The overall set is very… Anathema. That is to say, it’s long to the point of drawn-out and filled with love songs some may call heartbreaking and others gooeily sentimental. The band doesn’t have new material to push, apart from a new live DVD, which means they get to mainly showcase guaranteed hits from their lengthy history.
I won’t lie: this saves the night. The band absolutely gives their best tonight, but a two-hour acoustic set by anyone is a big gob to swallow. However, the song choices are the cream of Anathema’s crop, from modern classics from We’re Here Because We’re Here to early loved ones such as Deep off the beautiful Judgement.
Fittingly, the last man standing on stage is the consistently great Danny. After a raucous cover of Another Brick in the Wall, the others vanish, leaving him to yell at the crowd who has stayed unwaveringly ardent through the hours:
”If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding!”