The Gathering – Sleepy Buildings

Sleepy Buildings came as a between albums surprise for fans and remains the best present the band has given us. It ranks highly in my opinion with the best live albums ever –    it has all the trademarks of a classic live recording- passion, fan favorites, inspired performances, the odd mistake which add to the overall gig. This was a semi-acoustic show for fans at the Lux Theatre in 2003 with a couple of bonus songs from their British live shows. I was lucky enough to see them at Glastonbury and while that was a much livelier show the acoustic nature of this show means everything is more mellow, more laid back, and more personal. The small crowd gives a sense of intimacy and the songs chosen vary wildly from their respective original versions. Some of these new takes feel at times better than the way they are usually performed but naturally that is subjective. This is a must for fans and I would strongly encourage anyone remotely interested in the band or anyone who wants to try something new to invest in this; you won’t be disappointed.

`Locked Away’ opens the album softly just Anneke’s voice and some background acoustic guitar. Pianos and tambourine soon follow giving this a much different feel to what we are used to. This sets the tone for the whole show- everything is subtle and underplayed quite amazing considering how complex some of the originals are. The irony is that while those originals were so ambitious, it was equally ambitious trying to strip them down. And for anyone wondering, Anneke sounds even better live than on record.

`Saturnine’ is taken from `If Then Else’ a highly melodic and at times bitter song, here featuring some fantastic bass and stunning vocals. Here, like most of the album most of the instruments are close to being drowned out by the sheer power and emotion of Anneke’s singing. This is one of her best performances of the show but there is also some simple backing guitar which covers any blank spaces. Towards the end the non acoustic parts come through with some nice synthesizer and keyboard piano playing, but never once does it get heavy; it remains chilled, blissful.

`Amity’ comes again from `If The Else’, a simple piano led song with Anneke singing multi layered melodies. While the vocals are great and the song itself is good, lending a typically dark tone to proceedings, it doesn’t stand out as much as others here. The lyrics are nice and clear here though and the guitars have a nice ghostly effect.

`The Mirror Waters’ is taken from the V festival and is one of three songs taken from pre- Anneke days so it almost seems like a new song. I like the different take on the song, Anneke sings with her usual effervescence, and the backing music and organs are excellent. The lyrics actually stand out here, given a new reality via Anneke’s performance. The song builds through several loud and quiet parts before descending into a minute of typical Anneke `ooh ahhs’.

`Red Is A Slow Colour’ retains the threatening mood of the original but changes the drumming and loud guitars for some latter-day Gathering effect work and soft strumming. Again it gives Anneke another chance to shine, proving that she could sing anything and make it sound angelic. Once again there is an extended outro of `oohs’.

`Sleepy Buildings’ was a new song written for this performance- a simple Anneke with piano song. It has quite a bouncy, upbeat feel to it and seems a little strange surrounded by these other songs. It isn’t exactly out-of-place, it just has an oddness about it. Still a good song though, maybe we’ll see it again some time in the future.

`Travel’ comes in with the full force of the band, an epic acoustic here which is just as good as the original. If anything this version has more melody, more sadness to it as it lacks the heavy guitars and experimental noise. It is rare to have an acoustic song this lengthy in a live performance but it works every second (perhaps cheating with some added electric guitars and keyboards). Anneke does some great shouting for the final part of the song, topping off a fine performance.

`Shrink’ never really sounds different in any performance of it that I’ve heard. An ultra heavy thrash version of it might be interesting. Here it is as fragile and beautiful as ever, Anneke belts out the vocals rather than the more hushed take on `Nighttime Birds’. This doesn’t take away from the haunting sensation that will inevitably creep up and down your spine upon hearing, and I like the way the climbing piano melody fits in with the riff in the next song’s introduction.

`In Motion Pt II’ here is among my favourite Gathering songs, and it may be Anneke’s best vocal display. Control, moving from gentle to brutal, from weakness to utter desperation, her range is unending and the number emotions she is able to convey are just as moving as the emotions themselves. I challenge anyone not to feel a shudder of admiration when they hear the chorus come in. The musicians give equally strong displays, with subtle keyboards to effective backing guitars; this is as perfect as music can be.

`Stonegarden’ is another re-worked early song, but this time I don’t feel it is as effective. It opens strongly enough with keyboards and Anneke’s first line. Perhaps the song simply works better with lower range male vocals, the verses don’t have too memorable melodies although the time shifts are good. As with every song here it is essential listening as I’m sure this will turn out to be someone’s favourite.

`My Electricity’ has never been one of my favourites in any incarnation though here it is as good as any take I’ve heard. It is in no way a bad song, it just doesn’t do much for me. This sees Anneke and Rene’s guitar without any external interference and of course it works. When you have such talented people, everything works.

`Eleanor’ is still one of the band’s most popular songs, the opening sounds usually accompanied by a giant roar from the crowd. This version is cut down as far as it is possible to go, with light guitars and piano. Anneke sings in a softer way giving the song a new feel and at times it sounds more vicious and sadistic with those creeping pianos. As usual I’m almost certainly reading too far into things but either way this incarnation is especially good. We don’t even miss the blast beats.

`Marooned’ in this gig is perfect; gorgeous vocals, almost unnoticeable guitars, computerized drums, and a very light backing organ sound. The lyrics are highlighted here and we can sense the desolation and despondency of the lonely narrator. The no-one’s home phone sound is put to good use and everything sounds complete as if it was written to always be played this way.

`Like Fountains’ closes the album- the final V song, and the final pre-Anneke song. It may also be the best song on the album. Most of the song it is simply Anneke singing over some sparse piano, and you can tell not a word was spoken in the crowd while this was being played. The multi verses build up to a Tori Amos style chorus, heartbreaking, melodic, soft, yet full of conviction. To finish an album as good as this on such a high is something special.

Anyone unsure of The Gathering’s genius should buy this. Knowing what they can do in the recording studio, and seeing it all being thrown out the window before picking up the pieces and creating something new and equally brilliant is a gift few if any other bands have achieved. The only tragedy is that this, and the band are largely unheard of. For those who already fans, and for those who have just clicked `add to basket’- your ears will rarely hear something as good. DVD please?

*Originally written in 2009

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