It’s 8:30 p.m. sharp when the lights dim at the sold out Metropolis, right on schedule. The screen comes alive with images of lonely apartment buildings, faceless and lifeless. Not a single note has been played yet, but we’re already in the world of Steven Wilson. Isolation and nostalgia, themes central to his latest masterpiece “Hand. Cannot.Erase” fill the screen for maybe five minutes before the band walks on stage and kicks into “First Regret,” the first track from the album. Most of the album would be played over the course of the 2.5 hour show, to the delight of everyone present. Played live, the music takes on a slightly rawer edge that suits it well; it growls a little more, and feels a little more reckless.
Most songs were accompanied by film footage synced to the music, enhancing the story, and quadraphonic sound was also used throughout the show to great effect. Playing keyboards, acoustic guitar, bass or his gold Les Paul, Wilson seems more confident on stage than he was in the past (I hadn’t seen him since the last Porcupine Tree tour), and his band is composed of stellar musicians. Lighting effects were simple throughout but highly effective.
Execution is of course flawless throughout, even when the band deviates from their standard setlist to make this second night different from the first. “How is Your Life Today?”, a rarely played Porcupine Tree song (“There is a lot of politics involved in a band, but now I can do whatever the fuck I want!”, Wilson explained) gets a lot of cheers from the crowd, as did a magnificent medley of material that didn’t make the cut for “Hand. Cannot. Erase”. One can only hope Wilson and his band will find themselves in a studio soon to record this. Prior to playing it, Wilson pleaded with the audience not to upload any footage of it to YouTube. In the Porcupine Tree days, he used to put up signs in the venue asking people not to take pictures during the show. While I didn’t see any this time around, people were extremely well behaved when it comes to cameras. A few shots here and there, nothing more, nothing intrusive. I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to concert photos, but I must admit it felt great not to watch the show through a sea of screens.
The first side trip away from the latest album was “Index” from the “Grace for Drowning” album. This track never made any impression on me before, but the live version was just fantastic! Wilson and the band attacked it with a passion that gave it a life it doesn’t have on record. “Harmony Korine” also found its way into the main set. After concluding the album, a semi-transparent curtain dropped in front of the stage to serve as a projection screen. The band then played a fantastic version of “Watchmaker”, with Wilson’s silhouette backlit unto the curtain. Another Porcupine Tree song, “Sleep Together”, concluded the show, a weird choice on paper (there are far better songs in their catalog) that worked perfectly with the mood of the show.
For the encore, Wilson offered a solo acoustic version of Porcupine Tree’s “Trains”, dedicated to Chris Squire of Yes who passed away the day before. The band then finished with the excellent title track from “The Raven That Refused to Sing”, capping a wonderful evening of music.
Jean-Frédéric Vachon is the titular addict behind the site Diary of a Music Addict