June 12, 2015 Steven Wilson’s magical music journey in NYC 5-30-15
Founder of England’s Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, has often been referred to as one of the most prolific Progressive Rock composers from the past three decades. Starting to write and record music while still a teenager, Wilson took part in a handful of projects early in life growing up in Eastern England town Hemel Hempstead. Full of musical ideas, by the time he was twenty he had begun Porcupine Tree along with Art-Pop duo No-Man. Releasing ten studio albums as a part of Porcupine Tree, and six with vocalist Tim Bowness as a part of No-Man, other projects Wilson has delved into over the years include I.E.M., Bass Communion, Blackfield, and work with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt in Storm Corrosion.
Having been nominated four times for a Grammy, Wilson’s career does not begin and end there though. The busy artist has been a key collaborator with band’s like Opeth, Yes, XTC, and Anathema, to name a few. Recognized as a brilliant producer as well, while his resume is extensive, most in the mainstream turn to his work on the series of Opeth albums; Blackwater Park (2001), Deliverance (2002), and Damnation (2003). The list goes on for Wilson and interestingly it was not until a little over a decade ago that he began releasing music under his own name, putting out his debut solo album Insurgentes in 2008. Consistently releasing material since, in February of this year fans were treated to his fourth solo masterpiece, entitled Hand. Cannot. Erase.. Raved by critics, it is being dubbed one of the best albums of 2015, and on May 19th, Wilson kicked off a much anticipated North American tour in its support. Making select stops from the East and West coast, up into Canada, Wilson came to Best Buy Theater in New York City May 29th and 30th for a two-night stand. Selling out both shows, it was a special event for New Yorkers, with many of those who made the trip to see Wilson Friday night returning on Saturday night. Arriving on time, anxious fans packed out the theater set up with seating all around for everyone to indulge in what would be a two plus hour performance.
With no opening act, the journey into Wilson’s musical visions began promptly at 8 PM when a ten minute film shown on a giant screen above the stage. Mesmerizing the audience with a mix of interesting sight and sound, the mood was already set prior to keyboardist Adam Holzman approaching the stage first. Followed by bassist Nick Beggs, drummer Craig Blundell, and guitarist David Kilminster, by the time Wilson came out, the audience was going nuts in praise. Going into the introduction of Hand. Cannot. Erase., “First Regret,” the song filled the air with warm instrumentation. Welcoming the audience and thanking them for their attention, this was a show that would see no cellphones out snapping photos or attempting to video, just pure immersion by all in the concert experience. Luring the room deeper into the music, the lengthy “3 Year Old” followed. Recapturing all the emotions of instruments, when Wilson began to sing almost five minutes in, everyone was already deep within the song’s atmosphere. Filled with intensity, each musician played the heavy sections brilliantly, and the more ambient moments with delicate precision.
Continuing on and playing Hand. Cannot. Erase. in track order, “Hand Cannot Erase,” “Perfect Life,” and “Routine” followed. Conceptionally inspired by the case of a British woman named Joyce Carol Vincent who lived in a city and was very isolated, she one day disappears, with stunningly no one noticing. Deeper than that, Joyce Carol was in fact a very popular young woman, but sadly no one missed her for three long years. A tragic story, Wilson’s musical soundtrack around the concept was vividly brought to life in front of everyone’s eyes. Breaking away from Hand. Cannot. Erase. momentarily, Wilson and company sprinkled in 2011’s dark introspective track “Index.” Fitting like a piece to a puzzle, the song went flawless before the band turned back to concept album with “Home Invasion” and “Regret # 9.” Dressed with some amazing keywork by Holzman, the compositions were nothing short of magic as they synced with the videos in the backdrop and crystal clear lighting beaming around the stage, thus adding more intrigue to overall aura.
Keeping the energy flowing, 2005 Porcupine Tree single “Lazarus” was a breathtaking rendition with the piano notes dancing through the air as Wilson calmly sang with ease. Going into 2008’s “Harmony Korine,” the mix of dream-like and distorted guitars along with tension building drums overwhelmed the senses of all who continued to applaud any moment they had. Bringing on more Porcupine Tree material, Wilson took the room back fifteen years to the track “How Is Your Life Today?” where he and Holzman teamed up for a brief harmonized duet. Beatleseque by nature, the song was welcomed by long-time followers before Wilson completed his hand-picked selections off Hand. Cannot. Erase.. Picking back up with the album’s longest piece, “Ancestral,” before “Happy Returns,” and finally “Ascendant Here On…,” the experience was a personal look into the story of Joyce Carol, leaving many in the audience moved into tears.
Exiting after the final keystrokes, the room erupted into cheers hoping for an encore. Allowing the first set a chance to sink into everyone’s pysche, the encore began moments later with another introduction video featuring Bass Communion song “Temporal” resonating before 2013’s The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories), “The Watckmaker.” Another extensive progressive piece, it filled Best Buy Theater with classical acoustic guitar and elegant flute, once again taking spectators deep into the abyss, and loving every minute of it. Picking the tempo right back up, fans rejoiced with Porcupine Tree favorite “Sleep Together,” which saw some even headbanging along to the heavier sections. A bold moment in the already mind-blowing set, many thought the show had ended until the band returned for a second and final encore which commenced with Wilson alone strumming an acoustic guitar, performing 2002’s “Trains.” Another back catologue piece from the world of Porcupine Tree, everyone welcomed it with open arms before the night wound down with the outstanding “The Raven That Refused to Sing.”
Steven Wilson and his group of virtuoso musicians not only captured the audience, they kept them fully enthralled until the end. With the entire band completely locked into their performance, their expression through the music notes they played was all the action anyone needed to truly grasp the consciousness of the songs. Weaving in and out of heavy and softer compositions, it was orchestration that dug deep the heart and soul of all who attended. The North American leg of the tour concludes June 29th in Quebec City, so do miss out on this otherworldly concert odyssey.