Katatonia @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
w/ VOLA, Agent Fresco
Emotion is the name of the game tonight, with Sweden’s Katatonia bringing their resonant doom to the London masses not once, but twice in one evening – they’ll start with a complete run through of 2006s The Great Cold Distance, and finish with a set spanning their entire career. The choices for songs are myriad, so the excitement for what may happen is felt keenly throughout the beautiful venue.
First (we miss the opening band, VOLA, due to real life commitments), Agent Fresco showcase that they too, run on emotion. The Icelandic quartet are visibly moved by the audience’s reaction throughout the set and frontman Arno?r Dan Arnarson bounds across his stage with a defiant energy. Speaking from the heart each time he addresses the crowd, Arnarson puts his absolute all into a performance that garners the band many a new fan tonight. Agent Fresco’s sound is difficult to pin down but at its core it’s progressive rock with heightened outbursts of hope. Keyboards are used to dissonant effect and vocals are gorgeous – with a couple of tracks going completely off kilter and into more blackened territory. It certainly keeps their time on stage interesting and this group are definitely ones to watch.
Katatonia choosing to mark an anniversary in London is not something new – they also did the same in 2011 to celebrate ten years of Last Fair Deal Gone Down (London is a lucky city) and tonight they promise to play songs from across their entire career, also. Coming on to the reddened stage, the Swede’s begin on “Leaders” and rapturous applause. Vocalist Jonas Renkse is still a shy performer, despite fronting this band for over twenty years, and chooses to hide behind his hair for the majority of the evening. Still, his passion shows through a voice that melts in the air and carries over the formidable crowd that packs this venue.
The Great Cold Distance may be ten years old, but the songs tonight sound fresh and important and while a few tracks are often aired as part of a “normal” Katatonia set, it’s a joy to hear many others and for a lot of people here tonight, it’s the first time they’ve been heard live at all. “My Twin” is luxurious and heavy while “July” falls through a delicate aura. The first hour flies by and soon we are waiting for the band to come back to play what they promise will be an exciting second set. There’s a buzz in the air and conversations turn to what we may hear as the evening progresses.
“Last Song Before the Fade” from this years The Fall of Hearts kickstarts the second hour and “Teargas” from Last Fair Deal Gone Down prompts wild applause. Katatonia hold true to their promise and we are blessed with at least one song per record they’ve released. We’re taken back to Viva Emptiness with a delirious rendition of “Evidence,” while Brave Murder Day is remembered with “Day,” a song that has only just reached double digits in terms of how many times it’s been heard live. The band were excellent in the first half of their performance, but the second hour sees them reach an entirely new level of heavy. The songs sound huge, the drums are on fire and the guitars spill out riffs without a second thought. It's truly astounding to see a band, having been together for so long (there's been a few moves but the core remains), having fun and being so passionate about their presentation.
Each track is met with delighted approval and "Leathen" from 2012s stunning Dead End Kings swirls ever upwards before we move further back in time, Katatonia finally reach their debut and with Renkse still using his dark hair as a cloak, he mumbles something about growling and a song they haven’t played live in twenty years. “Gateways of Bereavement” from Dance of December Souls (1993) is immense and Renkse uses a part of his voice that we don’t hear enough of in nowadays Katatonia – although with music so emotionally charged and weighty, it’s not always required. It’s truly a special moment and one that will not be forgotten by those lucky enough to be here. “Ghost of the Sun” closes out the show and as the crowds forlornly leave, finally giving up hope that Katatonia may come back for more, the cold October air receives their breathless praise.