It has been two years since Steven Wilson had played in Australia. On this occasion playing for the first time in the luxurious Palais Theatre in Melbourne. I arrived early to the venue as I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a VIP ticket that granted me access to the Q&A session with the man himself.
During the session, Steven talked to the present fans about how grateful he feels to have grown up listening to his parents’ record collection which influenced him in the early stages of his life. He identifies himself as an artist that wants to have control over the content that is delivered to his audience rather than being an entertainer that creates the music trying to please people. He confessed that he can not stand to be on tour for more than six or seven weeks at a time and how proud he feels about the fact that every single one of his albums are different.
The theatre rapidly filled up and the lights went out at 8 pm sharp. Before the musicians came to stage, the audience was exposed to the short film Truth consisting of a sequence of images paired with words that appeared to have a joint meaning: hate, difference, family, love, happiness, religion, fact, news, compassion, fake, information, sincere, security and other words appeared to make us feel comfortable as they seemed to be complementary to each other. A plot twist was then added, the same images were displayed but this time the words associated to them now seem to be polar opposites. As an example, a Scientology temple is both “science” and “fiction”. The sequence looped again and again and the meaning of the photos made us reflect on how our judgment is affected by our own social conditioning.
The time had finally come. A bare feet Steven and his band came to the stage and the first notes of Nowhere Now opened the concert. A sole spotlight fixed on him made him stand out in the middle of a blue background.
Pariah, sung as a duet with Nineth Tayeb on the latest To the Bone album is next. In this live version of the song, she is not present in the theatre, but we were still delighted with her warm voice and a video of her singing on the big screen until her image disappeared into a colourful explosion that merged with the purple lights on the stage.
Steven then took the microphone to say hello to the crowd and anticipated that towards the end of the show we are more than welcome to stand up. In the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy the first half of the show even though ¨Playing in front of a sitting crowd feels like being the only people dancing in the disco¨.
Home invasion is the perfect opportunity to make Nick Beggs shine on the Chapman Stick. Regret #9 follows naturally and the crowd enjoys the first lengthy instrumental section of the evening.
Of course, many of the people that came to the concert are not only fans of Steven’s solo work, but also of the magnificent work that Porcupine Tree created over the years. The Creator Has a Masterpiece put a smile on the face of more than one.
When Steven grabbed the mic to address the audience again, he asked how many of the attendees were under the age of 23. A decent yell of the crowd was heard. In return Steven proceeded to make a very special introduction to them: “This is an electric guitar. A very particularly beautiful specimen” as he held his recently acquired Custom 1963 Fender Telecaster. A history lesson continued as he told us that legendary musicians like Jimmy Page and Bruce Springsteen have played and loved this guitar model. Steven described its sound as fantastically sexy and rock’n’roll without having to incorporate any additional processing. And he demonstrated it by playing the first chords of The Same Assylum as Before. The way he spoke about his Telecaster throughout the night made it very clear that he is very fond of it.
As we headed towards the end of the first set, the band played Refuge and Ancestral, guitarist Alex Hutchings, Nick Beggs, and Steven Wilson all drop to the ground and play their parts kneeling down or facing to the ceiling.
A tremendous ending to the first set. In the fifteen-minute break, I could hear the punters talking about Steven’s sense of humour and their expectations for the second part of the show. As the second set started, the audience was ready and now standing up. Everyone was treated to the beautiful melody of Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. Everything should go as smooth as usual, right? Well, let’s just say that at the end of the song Mr. Wilson said: “I can see the commentary on the internet tomorrow: Steven Wilson is so unprofessional! He can’t even remember the lyrics to his own fucking song!” Honestly, it was not a big deal, on the contrary, it showed us a more human side of Steven, as he took the opportunity to make another one of his jokes:
“- I traveled 25 miles to see Steven Wilson and then, this??
– Yeah? Well, we traveled 10,000 miles to get here and haven’t slept in 72 hours!! I’m allowed to forget the lyrics!… No really, this is quite embarrassing”
If there is one song in particular that has made To the Bone so controversial, that would be Permanating. Steven is well aware of that and did not miss the opportunity to teach us another lesson. Pop music does not have to be identified as the one performed by people like Justin Bieber, when Steven wanted us to join together in communing for the magic of pop music he referred to the kind of magic created by The Beatles, Depeche Mode, and Michael Jackson. “If you brought a King Crimson or Pink Floyd T-Shirt to the concert, forget about the fact that you are not allowed to move.” The band then proceeded to play Permanating and there is absolutely no doubt that the lighting design was something extraordinary, every colour seemed to be put on the right place and time and they complemented the music perfectly. In the end, I could spot a vast majority of the guests dancing and singing to this iconic “pop song”
Following the happiest moment of the evening, some people seemed to take a short break and grabbed their seat again for a few minutes. Song of I was paired with the physical expression contemporary dancer on the screen, Lazarus was clearly one of the favourites of the evening, behind me I see a couple hugging each other as they clearly shared something special listening to this song.
As the end approached, the band performed Detonation, Heart Attack in a Layby and the instrumental Vermillioncore from the 4 1⁄2 mini-album. Sleep Together, put an end to the second set and it was pure sensory overload. A sensational performance from the band that resulted in a standing ovation. Even Less was the first of three songs that were played as part of the encore. The Sound of Muzak followed but Steven had a special request. He needed us to sing along the lyrics on his signal so he does not as ludicrous as he did in Tokyo a few days ago, where he didn’t get quite that response. The Melbournians did not disappoint as they knew the lyrics and the chorus very well.
We were finally warned that the last song will send us home feeling depressed and indeed, the emotional images and notes of The Raven that Refused to Sing left us with a melancholic taste, but we were also saddened because a great 3-hour performance had finally come to an end.
A consummate performance from Steven Wilson and his band, I left the venue captivated by his charisma and the spectacular display of music and visuals.
Review & Gallery Contributed by Jose Sanchez