Steven Wilson

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author AP date 19/03/13 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Steven Wilson is an accomplished English multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known for founding the legendary prog-rock group Porcupine Tree. His solo career is his outlet for a more experimental, elusive take on the genre; one which is best summarised as the life and times of Steven Wilson in high definition. Just prior to arriving at Store Vega, the promoter for tonight's concert has sent - in much haste, it seems - an e-mail to all attending press imploring us to arrive already at 19:30, as Mr. Wilson intends to 'ease' us into the evening with a 30-minute film - well in keeping with the multimedia experience this show has been pushed as.

All photos by Per Lange

The 'film' itself begins somewhat later; and the apostrophes around the word are crucial: what we are confronted by is a large pale moon that, for over half an hour, morphs into various disquieting faces - not least that which appears on the cover of his latest album "The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)" - backed by a soundtrack of buzzing ambiance. The idea is to subvert the audience to the fact that watching Steven Wilson live is not simply a concert; it is a full-fledged art experience. It serves well to set the mood for what is most aptly described as Wilson's nightmare, and my only remark with regard to its effect is that one wishes the venue lights had been turned off for the film's duration, so as to truly induce the desired state of mind within the seated audience.

Once the lights dim and the musicians - lead guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Nick Beggs, drummer Marco Minnemann, saxophonist/flutist/clarinet player Theo Travis and keyboardist Adam Holzman - enter, the anticipation is so thick you might slice through it with a machette, so when Wilson himself strides in, casually glancing here and there at first and then throws his arms in the air during the initial explosion of noise in "Luminol", it feels like what I imagine heroin coursing through your veins feels like: pure ecstatic release.

As Wilson himself later points out, he was somewhat divided when his agent suggested the shows on this tour be seated; because his songs are so marked by contrasts, particularly in the dynamic between loud and heavy, and quiet and somber. Such contrasts are heightened by the nature of the music - which often exists in the realm of playful, warm and entrancing jazz-rock - and the imagery and video clips projected onto the backdrop - which are some of the most disturbing, uncomfortable, and often downright terrifying concepts I have witnessed to date, out-weirding even the infamous visuals of Tool. At the same time, however, one feels compelled to stare at them with a mixture of wonder and fear, trying to find meaning in them and relating them to one's own experiences. For myself personally, this culminates in the ultimate song of the evening (bar the encore), "The Raven That Refused to Sing", against which you'd have to be utterly devoid of empathy to not be emotionally distressed and saddened by its tragic, yet truthful message. The animated video only strengthens this feeling.

There are of course other clips that aren't quite as inspirational, most notably during "The Watchmaker", "Index" and "Harmony Korine", which aim, above all, to frighten and even disgust us with stuff you'd imagine a psychopath's nightmares are made of. Paradoxically, with the exception of "Index", the instrumentation never conjures such feelings; the rich, textured soundscape - the result of a flawless organic combination of instruments not usually heard in rock music - paying significant homage to the prog-rock glory of Pink Floyd. In this regard, one must offer huge applause to Wilson's backing band, whose roles exceed even that of Wilson himself (he is quite busy alternating between guitar, bass, mellotron and vocals), and who offer such prowess with their respective instruments it is hardly a surprise the audience erupts in standing ovation on more than one occasion, ultimately so once "Remainder the Black Dog" and "No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun" conclude the proceedings.

Regardless of what my opinion on seated rock shows is, I cannot but offer praise. It is not often that a band or musician succeeds in staging a performance this magical, this immersive, and this thought-provoking. In that sense it is the exact opposite of the last concert I watched here; an experience far removed from the typical rock concert I tend to attend. But it is atypical in all the right ways, and it speaks at some length to the effect of Wilson's visuals that I find it so difficult to fall asleep after that I am forced to take the next day off.

Setlist:

  • Luminol
  • Drive Home
  • The Pin Drop
  • Postcard
  • The Holy Drinker
  • Deform to Form a Star
  • The Watchmaker
  • Index
  • Insurgentes
  • Harmony Korine
  • No Part of Me
  • Raider II
  • The Raven That Refused to Sing

--Encore--

  • Remainder the Black Dog
  • No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun

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