TAKE A BOW
We catch an early Steve Wilson UK show, sail the North Sea on HMS Prog as The Beast From The East hits, and there are also reviews of Steve Hackett, Amplifier, Sons Of Apollo, Joe Payne, Galahad, Orphaned Land, Curved Air, When Mary, Paul Draper and more…
“IT’S ALL VERY LOUD, SURPRISINGLY HEAVY AND HAS AN AGGRESSIVE, OCCASIONALLY VIOLENT SHEEN.”
VENUE WARWICK ARTS CENTRE, COVENTRY
“W hat we do up here is a big, sexy rock’n’roll show,” says Steven Wilson. “But it’s like we’re the only people dancing at a party. We could hear our own footsteps as we walked on stage.”
Wilson is faced with an audience well settled in comfortable seats, and he clearly wishes they weren’t. He wants people on their feet, and it’ll happen eventually, but more of that later.
To be fair to the crowd, it doesn’t start like a party. The evening opens with a rather stern voice introducing a short film that plays on a gauze curtain strung up in front of the stage. A series of apparently unconnected images flash up. There are pictures of football violence and newborn babes, cowering families and CCTV cameras, ISIS fighters and Richard Nixon. To add to the air of confusion, words are flashed up over the images: SCIENCE. SECURITY. FAKE. EGO. THREAT. GRIEF. HAPPINESS. It feels perilous. Russ Abbott this is not.
What it is, is spectacular. Nowhere Now glides by in a rush of Who power chords with a spiralling Floyd chorus. A dreamlike Pariah features a digital duet with Ninet
Tayeb, her face projected 20-feet high onto the gauze. Home Invasion stutters and grinds with menace, Nick Beggs swapping bass for Chapman Stick and back again, keyboardist Adam Holzman delivering a wildly oscillating solo. Ancestral starts with a skittering, Radiohead-style noodle-along, but by its finish the band are literally on their knees, pumping out a wild, virulent noise as the song climaxes.
Song Of I is a dramatic, widescreen wonder, making the point in a complicated Venn diagram where Ulver, Depeche Mode and Portishead collide. It’s all very loud, it’s surprisingly heavy, and any meekness in the original recordings is banished by the introduction of an aggressive, occasionally violent sheen. And it’s all done without losing any of the elegant, uplifting beauty of the compositions.
There’s also a tasty sprinkling of Porcupine Tree songs scattered throughout the set. The Creator Has A Masterpiece slowly builds before disintegrating in a wall of fierce noise, Arriving Somewhere But Not
Here develops slowly, the band members gradually raising the tension with egg shakers, before reaching a howling peak as cars speed by on the backdrop. And Sleep Together provides a spectacular finish, with Eastern string arrangements giving everything a monstrous, Kashmir-meetsmetal momentum.
Wilson’s in avuncular form, joking about the age of the audience (“Is anyone here under the age of 40?”) and bouncing around the stage with relaxed abandon. He introduces the musicians – an entertaining, drawn-out business that involves the band members waving at each other from opposite sides of the stage – and he even introduces his new guitar, a battered 1963 Telecaster in dire need of a paint job. He says it’s the first time he’s really bonded with such an instrument.
He demonstrates the visceral rock sound it makes, and as his elbow levers furiously during the slashing chords that backbone People Who Eat Darkness, we could almost be watching
Despite the undeniably epic nature of much of what’s on show, the highlight of the set is Permanating, the three-minute wonder that’s a controversial cat amongst the prog pigeons. Wilson introduces it with a long preamble about the “wonderful tradition” of pop music: ABBA and The Beatles (hooray!) in one corner, Justin Bieber and Miley
Cyrus (boooo!) in the other. He talks about the magnificence of melody and harmony, and about not paying attention to genres.
“I’ve never said what kind of music I make,” he says. “Other people have always done that. I don’t give a shit about musical boundaries.”
He talks about the odd thrill of watching men in Opeth T-shirts attempting to dance to the song, and about not believing anyone who says they don’t like pop. It’s a shame he has to say any of this, but it’s a win-win situation for Wilson. His more open-minded followers get to stand – finally – and experience a few moments of effervescent pop glee (Permanating sounds like ELO playing the world’s best roller disco) and Wilson gets to troll any stodgy old bores terrified by songs you can whistle while you work.
As a look of joy slowly crosses Nick Beggs’ face while his tackles the backing vocals, and as Wilson peers up at the balcony to check out people’s moves, one can only hope there’s more of this sort of thing to come. A whole album, perhaps.
BUMS ON SEATS: WILSON WAITS TO GET THE PARTY STARTED. STEVEN WILSON: DELIVERING A BIG, SEXY ROCK’N’ROLL SHOW.