Steven Wilson

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author LL date 21/02/19 venue Opera House, Copenhagen, DEN

The British prog multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame has been one of my favorite musicians for many years. While I've already seen him perform four times so far, I couldn't be there when he last played in Copenhagen in 2018, and thus I felt very happy when this show was announced. Just like his extensive touring for the album "Hand.Cannot.Erase" that saw him playing Amager Bio as well as DR Koncertsalen, this round of touring for 2017's "To The Bone" took him to Store Vega last year only to return again this year. At first this show was announced for Royal Arena but happily, it was moved to the more special venue of the Copenhagen Opera House, which is somehow an even more extravagant setting than we had for the last cycle. Just like at DR Koncerthuset, though, we get a three-hour seated concert that includes a 20-minute break in the middle between sets and as per usual, there is no support act.

All photographs by Peter Troest

Steven Wilson

To ease us into his world, we are met with a short video juxtaposing various photographs and words that slowly begin to get jumbled and interchanged to the sound of increasingly ominous drones, while in the process introducing themes of disinformation and unease as well as more existential questions about our modern lives in general. Fans will know that Steven Wilson is big on audiovisual effects and tonight is no exception here. Throughout the set, he makes good use of showing music videos and thematic sequences on a screen on the backdrop as well as having moving pictures projected onto a see-through curtain in front of the stage. This especially helps the duets from his newest album to stand out in a positive manner instead of making us feel like something is lacking. For instance, Ninet Tayeb is projected in a huge size overlay, singing her parts of the grandiose and comforting "Pariah" early in the set - a song that really powers through as it builds up and convinces us early on that this show is going to be just spectacular.

Wilson is an adept guitar player and songwriter himself, but he has always had exceptional talent in his band as well. Adam Holzmann on keys and Nick Beggs on bass, Chapman stick, and wonderful falsetto harmonies have been part of the line-up for many years, while Craig Blundell on drums joined back in 2016 and Alex Hutchings who handles guitars on this tour is newer still. They have all been on the "To The Bone" tour for quite a while, though. Wilson tells us that this is their 141st show together and consequently, we experience a bunch of in-jokes in the form of bowing and otherwise gesturing to each other or in one instance, all of them lying down on their backs while playing a certain song-part. In general, they all seem in high spirits although Wilson is the only one engaging actively with the audience and the rest of the band seem to turn more inward or towards each other as they play. Apart from the silliness, their many shows together have also made them expertly tuned to each other and that is evident tonight as they take us seamlessly through Wilson’s diverse catalog with electrifying sound and great energy. Jammy and hard-hitting songs like “Home Invasion”, “The Same Asylum As Before” with the Lasse Hoile-directed video playing along, and not least “Vermillioncore” benefit the most from this and are all highlights of the set in their own right. Overall, though, the abundant keyboard and guitar solos feel inspired and vibrant across the set but the more winding songs that leave space for a little improvisation here and there most easily win our hearts tonight.

To begin with, Wilson has expressed the double-edged sword of performing for a seated audience which can be an “exquisite but clinical” experience and indeed, while a few audience members can’t help but stand up in excitement from time to time, it takes some time before the audience reactions really start to heat up. Both sets tonight end with standing ovations, however, and understandably so. We get to hear all the different facets of Wilson’s style tonight, and they are all delivered convincingly and with a lush sound mix, although some of them stand stronger than others. In the second set, especially “Permanating”, “Song of I”, “Detonation”, and later the beautiful ballad “Song of Unborn” flesh out his sound but we also get a couple of gems from his Porcupine Tree days. The favorite “Lazarus” makes an obligatory appearance as does “Sleep Together” and “Don’t Hate Me”, the latter of which somewhat, unfortunately, points a light to Wilson’s perhaps weakest card, namely that he doesn’t have the voice to quite match the extravagance of the music. When he performs acoustically in the encore, though, the more delicate soundscapes seem to suit him much better, and we get touching renditions of the title song of his project “Blackfield”, as well as the Porcupine Tree song “Sentimental”.

Wilson is a striking performer and in a fancy setting like this, his appearance with bare feet and a battered guitar that has obviously seen some action stands out all the more. His bassist, Beggs, is suited up and has his hair braided for the occasion but through the show, it slowly unravels in a parallel motion to the increasingly enchanted audience that gets into the music and slowly forgets about where they are. Of course, the classic ender to the show is the beautiful “The Raven That Refused To Sing”, and as always, it seems to leave everyone with a tear in their eye and the applause is swift and long. Wilson has taken to making fun of how depressive and downright suicidal a lot of his melancholic music is, but even though this is true when played with as much joie de vivre as tonight, the songs also express a pure celebration of life in all its complexity. I have said before that Wilson is one of my favorite songwriters and as his discography grows and his live shows keep on being magical experiences, he is getting ever closer to standing apart from others who share that status. He asks us to be patient with his return because he needs time to write new songs, so here’s to hoping that it won’t be long before we get a new album, a new tour cycle, and yet another amazing 3-hour evening out of Steven Wilson.

9

Setlist:

  • 1. Nowhere Now
  • 2. Pariah
  • 3. Home Invasion / Regret #9
  • 4. Don't Hate Me (Porcupine Tree song)
  • 5. The Same Asylum as Before
  • 6. Get All You Deserve
  • 7. Ancestral

— Intermission —

  • 8. No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun
  • 9. Index
  • 10. Permanating
  • 11. Song of I
  • 12. Lazarus (Porcupine Tree song)
  • 13. Detonation
  • 14. Song of Unborn
  • 15. Vermillioncore
  • 16. Sleep Together (Porcupine Tree song)

— Encore —

  • 17. Blackfield (Blackfield song)
  • 18. Sentimental (Porcupine Tree song)
  • 19. The Sound of Muzak (Porcupine Tree song)
  • 20. The Raven That Refused to Sing

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