Porcupine Tree: Live Review
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
August 12th 2010, The Wiltern, Los Angeles CA: Ever since I saw Porcupine Tree put on a surreal show at the Club Nokia on September 19th 2009, I had been eagerly waiting to experience it again. Eleven months on, the time had finally arrived. The venue on this occasion was the Wiltern and the tour was a co-headliner with Coheed And Cambria.
This being such an old, historical sort of a place, I always love the ambience here and I feel that it fits bands like Porcupine Tree and Opeth to the T. I found myself a very nice spot in the general admission pit, just a couple of rows from the stage.
The Dear Hunter kicked off the evening with their unique brand of experimental progressive rock. They were very impressive in their short stay on stage. They used the ambience of the venue excellently well and enhanced it with their music. As each song of theirs was passing by, the applause from the crowd was getting louder as they were really appreciating these musicians. Well at least the Porcupine Tree fans were. They played six songs and seriously, there wasn't anything negative about that half an hour, except for the nasty beer farts that somebody decided to unleash upon us helpless music lovers. In face, we had our noses covered for most of the set. Nonetheless, The Dear Hunter were simply great and I would recommend fans of Porcupine Tree, Opeth and Dream Theater to give them a listen.
As the stage was being prepared for Porcupine Tree, one of their roadies came on stage with a vacuum cleaner. I don't think I'd ever seen a stage being cleaned that meticulously before. He was getting loud cheers from the crowd as he put on an entertaining performance with his instrument.
The PA rang with the thunderous, almost ominous sound of Occam's Razor as Porcupine Tree appeared on stage and kicked off their set with 'The Blind House'. The Incident is an album that holds a special place in my heart, as I reviewed the album when it released last year. I enjoyed every minute of it when they played it from start to finish at the show I mentioned earlier, but by now I've listened to the album countless times and was thrilled at the prospect of experiencing it live again.
As before, there was a screen that engulfed the backdrop of the stage. The video clips and animation pieces on it that accompanied the music were top notch, specially for The Incident songs. I feel they have outdone themselves with the live production of this album. They continued with songs off of it, playing three more in succession. The beautiful sound of the acoustic guitar to start off 'Great Expectations' was pure honey to the ears. This short piece led straight into 'Kneel And Disconnect'. It was a delight to see and hear Steven Wilson on piano. John Wesley, who isn't a part of the band's studio recordings but has been a part of the band's touring line-up for eight years now, did a great job with the backing vocals on this particular song.
The amazing 'Drawing The Line' was the next piece of offering. This was the most enjoyable song off of The Incident tonight as it has all the variations, all the elements that make up a great live song. In fact, this might go down as one of the most popular and most recognizable Porcupine Tree songs in their history, at least in live shows. When you say the words 'progressive rock' to a person, the first thing he or she thinks of is weird complex song structures. This song is far from that, having quite a typical structure but at the same type being as musically rich as any other Porcupine Tree tune. It also proves that bands in this sub-genre should sometimes stop throwing down the gauntlet in trying to come up with the most complex songs, and instead, once in a while deliver simpler tunes that people could actually relate to.
It was time for a break from The Incident material, as they came up with 'Open Car' next. This one got some heads banging, including mine, perhaps for the first time tonight as it settled into a slow, heavy and enjoyable tune. 'Russia On Ice' was as much about the visuals as it was about the music. Being such a lengthy song, it certainly isn't a catchy number, and the extent to which one could enjoy this song really depends on the ability to let it enter your mind. If you were able to channel your mind to focus on the visuals, feel the ambience while at the same time letting the vocals and the sound of instruments speak to you, you wouldn't have found a better song all night.
If you thought Russia On Ice was a spiritual experience, 'Anasthetize' truly formed the centrepiece of the set as it showcased all the elements that represent Porcupine Tree within a single 17-minute song. The head bangers were few and far between tonight, but they sure went into a frenzy towards the latter half of this song. It is just unreal how effortlessly the band pulled off these last two songs perfectly well on stage, without even a hint of improvisation. Each and every note was played exactly as you'd have heard it at home.
After this it was back to The Incident with the last four tracks from Disc 1. Steven Wilson greeted both sets of fans and for those in the crowd that weren't familiar with the band, he explained that Disc 1 consists of 14 tracks but is really a 55-minute song. He said they would have loved to play the whole 55 minutes of it, but due to the time constraint, they weren't able to do it on this tour. From among these last four pieces, 'I Drive The Hearse' was the one I loved singing along to. They ended their set with two songs from their stellar Fear Of A Blank Planet album, the blissful 'Way Out Of Here' and 'Sleep Together'.
Performance and production wise, Steven Wilson and his mates did a fantastic job from start to finish. This band isn't about wearing fancy costumes, explosive pyro or stage moves. It's purely about the music and you know what you'll get from them, a flawless live rendition of their music. They don't even look like your typical 'rock stars', but more like your college professors. That doesn't matter one bit, as they proved once again how incredible their live performance really is.
Despite the brilliance that was on display, I should point out the negatives as well. The crowd was very divided in its musical taste. There were clearly two sets of fans, those who were here for Porcupine Tree and others who preferred Coheed And Cambria, and they were not at all ready to give a listen to each other's band. During the quieter portions of Porcupine Tree's music, I was getting quite agitated by the Coheed fans at the back that found it appropriate to talk loudly. So I would definitely say that this was a very, very weird tour package where the co-headliners would just never fit with each other. Talking of negatives other than that, obviously Porcupine Tree should have played a longer set. I didn't feel the last four Incident tracks fit the set very well with the central portion of that album missing from it, 'Time Flies' being the most glaringly obvious absentee. Because of the fact that the album is a 55-minute song, it's certainly one that's meant to be played in its entirety.
Overall, Porcupine Tree put on a tremendously brilliant, almost unearthly performance and it placed me on such a mental high that I wasn't about to let some random band full of coheeds and cambrias ruin that feeling. Hence I decided to leave the venue and head home, while listening to 'Time Flies' on my ipod.
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