THE MUSICAL BOX
Synonymous with spectacles and now theatrical spectacle, the unassuming gent in clothes that don’t clash with his music’s charisma delivers the gig of his life.
Steven Wilson makes his bow at the Royal Albert Hall, plus reviews from Jean-Michel Jarre, Muse, Gungfly, Fish, The Flower Kings, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues and more…
If you were at Wilson’s Albert Hall shows in March, you’ll want this document of the final night as an audiovisual aid to reliving the experience. If you weren’t, you should masochistically wallow in what you missed. It captures an artist at the top of his game, enjoying a career high.
The polar opposite of an overnight sensation, Wilson has worked his way to his current revered status across decades of mastering varied genres, initially with such slow-burning successes as No-Man and Porcupine Tree, latterly as a solo star who incorporates what he’s distilled from all that versatility into one big, broad musical church. Sometimes into one big, broad song, which is how he got labelled ‘prog’. Yet his own righteous protestations about the magic of pop – from The Beatles to Tears For Fears – dispute the very notion of limits. His last album To The Bone found him in the peculiar position of being sniped at by some for taking risks. It also became his best seller.
It still feels odd to describe Wilson as a star. As the adoring applause on this concert film proves, he certainly is. Yet his demeanour through this almost three-hour show speaks of modesty, and a focus on music rather than personality. Perhaps that’s through necessity when you’re changing instruments and tempos every couple of minutes, and his audience is here for the majesty of the songs, not for him to adopt Messiah poses in a gold lamé suit. Even so, the bespectacled allrounder’s humdrum black clothes and T-shirt suggest he’s aware that to compete with his music for charisma would be a losing battle.
Visually then, as superbly as the concert is filmed and edited, any sparks which fly come from the films and projections, with which Wilson is very hands-on. Sociopolitical slogans concerning our mad modern planet are flashed up briefly, but with a thoughtinducing ambiguity that makes, say, Roger Waters’ choices seem like cracking nuts with sledgehammers. Lasse Hoile’s creations, Jess Cope’s animations and multiple near-magical tricks raise the energy. One effect, during the Gabriel-tinged The Song Of I, where it appears that a giant translucent dancer is stepping around, between and above the musicians, defies you to deduce how it’s done.
Speaking of dancing, if someone had said a couple of years back that Wilson would be joined onstage by a group of smiling, whirling Bollywood Company dancers, the idea of something so colourful and upbeat might have seemed implausible. Here, on Permanating, that happy marriage of indie and India works perfectly. Wilson’s teased his fans that people in King Crimson T-shirts have never been prompted to move so much. Again, it’s this open-mindedness to the possibilities and fun of fusing unexpected strands, and the nerve to disobey some of the rock world’s more conservative elders and declare that disco doesn’t suck, that has placed him as a Top Three album chart act and the man who is, with love for the genre, coaxing prog forth into the brave new world of the 21st century.
He has a huge catalogue to cherry-pick from now, so while the emphasis is on newer material, he reboots Porcupine Tree numbers and designates a set which finds its flow amid contrasting yet complementary periods of heavy riffing and lofty pathos. Early on, it seems like a sudden U-turn to go from the slashing Nowhere Now to the big ballad of Pariah (with Ninet Tayeb contributing soulful vocals), but as the momentum gathers, such yin and yang tactics reveal their inherent tact.
If there’s any criticism – and we’d better strain for one before readers write in complaining that Prog dotes on Wilson’s every hiccup – it’s that his voice, while functional, doesn’t have that extra je ne sais quoi that elevates the good to the great. Given his other numerous talents, it’d be kind of unfair if it did. You could also argue that there’s so much going on in every track that a showier voice might only distract, and tangle the channels.
Where it does cut through is on the closing The Raven That Refused To Sing, as his Lennonesque, arrowing tone perfectly serves the growing drama. And none of this would fly without the musicians surrounding him, whether it’s the ever-glamorous Nick Beggs constantly reinventing the bass or guitarist Alex Hutchings, who’s already made it seem an eternity since he was the ‘new’ guy.
A live CD is an optional extra with this Blu-ray/DVD, and a five-vinyl box set is out next spring. Here, the bonus material offers an interview and three songs (Routine, Hand Cannot Erase, Heart Attack In A Layby) filmed in pre-show rehearsal in an empty
Hall. The atmosphere’s more intimate, less electrifying, and makes you return to the main event with fresh eyes. Which you will do happily. Welcome it in.
It still feels odd to describe Wilson
as a star. This proves he certainly is.