Steven Wilson is in a playful mood. As the lights go down, he ambles to the front of the stage and gazes out over the audience. After the ‘consummate professionalism’ of the previous evening’s show, he announces, tonight will be ‘very different’. He conducts a survey of the audience to find out how many people attended last night, how many were attending tomorrow night, nods sagely and wistfully confesses he might well have to ‘mix it up a bit’.
Having revealed that plans for a support band hadn’t worked out so well, he then launches into a spellbinding acoustic set of songs drawn mainly from the Porcupine Tree catalogue. Pausing after the fourth song he comments: “Who’d have thought after 10 minutes at a Steven Wilson concert you’d have already heard 4 songs. Usually I’m just warming up”. Introducing Adam Holzman on keyboards, he continues with How Is Your Life Today? before switching his attention to the project he shares with Aviv Geffen and a fabulous rendition of Blackfield before closing with the entrancing Postcard.
As an appetizer it certainly rallies the already enthusiastic audience and ramps up the levels of expectancy even further. It also tells us two things. The first is that Wilson feels supremely at home on stage. The levels of care and intimate attention to detail he lavishes on his studio production is no less evident here. There is nothing ad hoc about this performance. It may be natural, it may well be straight from the heart, it may give the appearance of being delivered with a fresh sense of gusto and energy but he is not a man who leaves anything to chance and despite his claims to the contrary it is executed with a carefully studied and loving perfection.
Second, this tells us something of even greater importance. Wilson is a man of incomparable poise and finesse. Music is only one aspect of what captures his attention and imagination. What captivates him even more is the ‘experience’ he is trying to communicate off the back of what his music allows him to do. As the second set begins, the short film which precedes the band taking to the stage, the projected animated story which later accompanies Routine show a fascinating concern with blurring the lines between the musical and the visual. They both enable each other and Wilson uses the music, the lights and the films to build intricate and creative mosaics.
These include the wonderful contributions of the individual band members and guest performers as well. Wilson does not hog nor seek the limelight. He understands that the experience only works because of the space each musician is given to bring their own skills and distinctiveness to the show. Ninet Tayeb is sublime in conveying a beautifully nuanced and emotionally sensitive set of vocal performances, both as support as well as lead singer. The duets and harmonies with Wilson throughout the evening are a joy to behold.
Mark Feltham brings a lively spirit and passion with some dazzling harmonica solos on To The Bone and Refuge. Dave Kilminster also joins the second set for Home Invasion and Regret #9 (apparently, Wilson tells us, having reduced his appearance fee to just six figures tonight!) for what is a truly frenzied and blistering momentum builder before the second set ends with the gorgeous Happy Returns, delivered with such exquisite grace and tranquillity it brings a tear to the eye.
The third set feels a little darker. By his own confession, Wilson revels in misery and People Who Eat Darkness, closely followed by another porcupine Tree song Don’t Hate Me has an uncomfortable and menacing feel. Yet he surprises us again by an interesting change of tack and an illuminating revelation. Making the audience stand for Permanenting he is self deprecating in taking time to ‘thank’ people for their comments and thoughts about this song. But what he goes on to offer us is an ode to his two musical heroes growing up – David Bowie in the 80’s and Prince in the 90’s. He is particularly careful to emphasise why: because, he tells us, they pushed the envelope whilst managing to enjoy mainstream success.
Listening to the rest of the set after this, things suddenly make sense. This is the model to which he aspires. This is why he cares so much not just about the music but why it is important for him to blend this with film, lighting and even the spaces in which performs. Whether it is The Same Asylum as Before, or the thundering Porcupine Tree Heart Attack in a Layby, whether it is Blackfield or any of his other projects, his attention is precisely set on the ‘bigger picture’, the holistic experience, using every means available in the 21st century to get his music to permeate and push the boundaries of modern culture.
As he comes out for the encore there is an undoubted sense of triumph and a feeling of ‘mission achieved’ as he assesses our rapturous applause and encouragement. I last saw him in January 2016 ((http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2016/02/11/steven-wilson-2/) at the Eventim (I’m sorry, for me it will always be the Hammersmith) Apollo. That night he was brilliant. Tonight, he was something special – and looking back it is clear to see the progress he is making, the evolution he is bringing to progressive rock and the hugely well deserved success and resonance it is striking and inspiring in the increasingly wider audience he is attracting and bringing in to the fold.
If you get the chance, go see him. It will be a night you will never forget.
Set 1: Solo Acoustic (with Adam Holzman)
The Sky Moves Sideways
How Is Your Life Today?
Intro “Truth” (short film)
To the Bone (with Mark Feltham)
Home Invasion (with Dave Kilminster)
Regret #9 (with Dave Kilminster)
Hand Cannot Erase
Ascendant Here On…
People Who Eat Darkness
Don’t Hate Me
Song of I
Refuge (with Mark Feltham)
The Same Asylum as Before
Heart Attack in a Layby
The Sound of Muzak
Song of Unborn
Steven Wilson – guitars and keyboards
Nick Beggs – Basses, Chapman Stick
Craig Blundell – Drums
Mark Feltham – Harmonica
Adam Holzman – Keyboards
Alex Hutchings – Guitars
Dave Kilminster – Guitars
Ninet Tayeb – Vocals
Royal Albert Hall
London, SW7 2AP
Steven Wilson – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Nick Beggs – Website | The Mute Gods | Facebook | Twitter
Craig Blundell – Website | Twitter | Instagram
Adam Holzman – Website
Alex Hutchings – Facebook (https://en-gb.facebook.com/ALEX.HUTCHINGS.OFFICIAL/) Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/user/AlexHutchingsMedia)
Dave Kilminster – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Ninet Tayeb – Website | Facebook | Twitter