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.

Prog - - Contents - Words: Il­lus­tra­tion: Chris Roberts Pablo Lo­bato

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.

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