Steven Wilson staged two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on the 28th and 29th of September, 2015. This is the second time I’ve seen him on this tour – the first being earlier this year in San Francisco. That fantastic show, in support of his latest Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015), was very similar to the first night of his two night stop at the RAH. Nearly all of the new work was performed, a concept album that fictionalizes the tragic true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not missed by anyone for over two years. The subject matter anchored an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater.
We caught the second night at the hall. Given many in the audience had been to the first show, Wilson prepared a new set list that included just a few from Hand. Cannot Erase., instead focusing on earlier solo tracks and many Porcupine Tree songs. After a strong opener “No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun” from 2009’s Insurgentes, Wilson intoned, tongue firmly in cheek, “Tonight is a very different show – for those of you who were not here last night, you don’t know what you missed. It was awesome. Tonight we are going to be doing stuff that we don’t know how to play very well.” The band then played a masterful version of “Shesmovedon,” a Porcupine Tree song from 2000’s Lightbulb Sun. Next, he noted that audience members who were present on the prior night would not mind if he brought out the first guest, Ninet Tayeb, to sing the devastating, beautiful lead vocal on “Routine,” from HCE, a show stopping moment that was greeted with rapturous applause. Her vocal was flawless and highly emotive, illuminating the accompanying stop motion animated video of the song’s lonely, heartbroken protagonist. Next up were two more Porcupine Tree songs, “Open Car” the spectacular riff-driven track from 2005’s Deadwing, and “Don’t Hate Me” from 1999’s Stupid Dream by which time it was clear we were being treated to a very unique concert.
Now mid way through the show, Wilson mentioned there had been rumors that he would be bringing out some “so-called” veteran players, but that instead, “these two shows are very much a celebration of my generation of musicians.” At this, he introduced the next guest, his sometime live and studio guitarist Guthrie Govan, who took on leads for the next three songs “Home Invasion,” “Regret #9,” and “Drive Home” the only track on this evening from his fantastic album The Raven Who Refused To Sing. This song included a projection of director Jess Cope’s haunting artistic video clip featuring it’s sorrowful lead character cleverly rendered by newspaper clippings, illustrating it’s message:
Release all your guilt and breathe
Give up your pain
Hold up your head again
Before launching in, Wilson brought out winds player Theo Travis, who he joked, had to be secreted-away from David Gilmour. Theo played beautifully on this, and the following four tracks that ended the main set. In a surprise move, these were all from earlier Wilson solo albums. Three of these songs “Sectarian,” “No Part of Me,” and “Raider II” were from 2011’s Grace for Drowning with the forth being the title track from 2009’s Insurgentes. Two encores followed, all Porcupine Tree songs. After the first, “Dark Matter,” Wilson came back onstage with Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison for “Lazarus” and “The Sound of Muzak.” Harrison delivered his brand of deft percussion rich with fine work on symbols and, as would be expected, the crowd went wild. The guests and song selections were aimed perfectly at pleasing these dedicated fans, so many which were present for both nights, for very different shows.
Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging his work live, setting the mood with long dissonant ambient sounds, muted lighting and surrealistic imagery projected on a stunning high definition screen. As with earlier shows in the tour, the lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system, which sounded amazing in the acoustic-friendly Royal Albert Hall. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members and guest musicians demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the touring band there were complex rhythms and solos from lead guitar player Dave Kilminster, electronic textures and brisk synth leads from keyboard player Adam Holzman, and a deep, thunderous bottom end and vocal harmonies from Nick Beggs on basses, paired with skilled drummer Craig Blundell. Though he claimed to be a bit worn from the two long performances, Steven delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful core set, and a special night for his fans. Wilson remains at the top of the list of artists I’ve seen over these now forty years with his accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to so expressively present it all live in concert. It was all well worth the trip across the “pond!”
(photo of Ninet Tayeb used by kind permission of Camila Jurado Photography 2015)