Another Steven Wilson tour of Australia, another opportunity to bask in the glorious nature of the musical gift he bestows upon the world – bring it on!
This show was to be broken into two sets, relatively common with Steven Wilson performances, and for the opening, the audience was introduced to a series of images and associated words on the backdrop with no band members onstage, an insight into Steven’s mind one would think.
Most of these images were strong and thought-provoking, and it was apparent when the images appeared for a second time, only with words previously shown with other images that we were reminded that this world is complete with views and beliefs that bely our intelligence, or unintelligence – depending on how you view the circumstances within… nevertheless, it was interesting to hear the audience responses to the images and words, particularly when they changed to show a perceived new meaning.
The musical component began with Nowhere Now from the To The Bone album, an underrated track in my opinion from what is a stunning album, and a beautiful transition into tonight’s show.
It wasn’t long before Steven began his trademark banter with the audience, to which he freely admits he does a lot of. For me I love that kind of stuff, I mean we’re at these shows for entertainment in whatever form that presents itself, and yeah there are plenty of typical examples at shows where some talk can be too much, well not with this guy because Steven has that British edge to his storytelling, an honesty, humor and merit to what he is conveying and for me it is truly compelling – don’t stop doing that Steven.
So on we go, one beautiful reproduction of his solo songs after another, Pariah, Home Invasion, The Same Asylum As Before, all with his trademark stroll amongst the stage and interacting with fellow band members, and then moving back toward the front of the stage to constantly connect with the audience.
The inclusion of British guitarist Alex Hutchings to the tour has been magically transitioned, that guy is effortless and moves with a grace that just flows magnificently with what he is playing, he really does move with the song structures and it adds so much feel to what are already beautiful and powerful songs.
As is pretty much always the case the audience was treated to various Porcupine Tree songs, during the first set we heard and saw The Creator Has A Mastertape from the In Absentia album which is killer – the drum beat through this song ripped through the theatre and the dual guitars of Steven and Alex was so damn powerful.
Before the first set ended Steven shared a joke with the audience which he obviously enjoyed, basically he asked the audience to raise their hand if they are twenty-five years of age or younger – when some did, he told them that he was going to explain what an electric guitar was – brilliant! He went on to speak so honestly about what that instrument has meant to him, and that in many ways it can be a forgotten artform in part of today’s musical genres.
The first set ended with Ancestral from the Hand. Cannot. Erase album, beautifully winding down the early proceedings and allowing the punters to gather their collective thoughts by grabbing a drink and catch their breath because the magic was only half complete!
It was great to be able to listen to the audience talk to one another during the brief interval and speak so candidly and vividly about the night thus far, many with loud voices speaking so passionately and some even air guitaring when referencing certain songs and lead breaks – that’s what this all about folks!
The second set began with another Porcupine Tree song, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here from the Deadwing album and immediately it was as if the performance did not stop for an interval, smooth transition!
Most of the audience were standing now, for Steven announced right at the beginning of the show that he would prefer that because in his words, the second set would be a little more powerful, the audience did not need a reminder, up they got!
The second song of this set was both exhilarating and strange because it was the groove offering of Permanating from the To The Bone album. I say strange because I honestly did not expect the band to play such a groovy disco-inspired song live, exhilarating because it created a vibe within the theatre which took most by surprise, perhaps all, and an awkwardness which everyone seemed willing to display – why awkward you ask?
Steven, whilst introducing the song explained that he is well aware of the fact that he has alienated some of his lifelong fans by writing such a song, however he wanted to pay homage and respect to real pop music culture, to artists that have historically produced what an older generation would call real pop music, and not necessarily what it has become in modern times.
Steven went on (amusingly) to suggest to the audience that it would be totally okay to feel the need to dance during the song, and if you have no clue, then ask your partner and they should be able to show you how? I have to say that it worked, not for me though… it was one of those moments where caution is completely thrown to the wind and the result is that many would have finished that song feeling as though they have just stepped well beyond their comfort zone, and they feel bloody fantastic about it!
Next up was Song Of I from the To The Bone album, featuring an absolutely stunning collaboration with Sophie Hunger. Sophie appeared digitally on the screen behind the band and that was something to behold, adding a really beautiful dimension to the song – this is a song laden with slow pop beats and a wonderful harmony between Steven and Sophie, and clearly a shift in musical direction as Steven has explained in certain interviews previously, in my opinion, a true mark of an artist who is keen to push boundaries and explore new avenues. I don’t believe that the audience was expecting that, however, they certainly did appreciate it.
At this point I thought to myself, yeah, powerful during the second set doesn’t necessarily mean all heavy guitar riffs, powerful music arrives in many forms and levels.
Another Porcupine Tree song followed, and this one was ultimately the one that united the audience in singing along the most, the wonderful Lazarus from the Transience album. It was a real deep and loud chorus of the band and audience with this one, clearly a favourite.
The show continued to gather pace, both physically and emotionally through various types of musical direction. We heard Detonation, Vermillioncore and Sleep Together, just to rattle off a few, and then ultimately the venue curfew demanded a finish, and we received that in the form of The Sound Of Muzak which brought a resounding ovation and roar – and so the band exited the stage.
The lights stayed down so the encore was on, and it came in the form of Song Of Unborn, again from the To The Bone album. One could see why Steven would leave this one for last, for it is a real message about life and all of its trappings and events, how we weave our way through the maze and try to find meaning to all that confronts us – but it is also a positive message and reminder to do what we can with this beautiful gift, the gift of life – use it and make do Steven says, and then don’t be afraid to die.
What a breathtaking way to end such a magnificent show, another masterful display from a band that delivers an epic performance time and time again – no shortcuts here, just real musicianship and songwriting, along with some wry British humour, my favourite kind!
Review & Gallery Contributed by Roger Brooks.