Steven Wilson brought what will likely be the final leg of his Hand. Cannot. Erase tour to the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium San Francisco, Friday November 4, 2016. This is the third time I’ve seen Wilson on this tour – the first being in early 2015 and the second at the Royal Albert Hall in London. While the RAH show held many surprises, the show at the Masonic hewed much closer to the original leg of the tour, with the addition of a recent song off his six-song EP 4 1/2. It was another in a series of amazing concerts concerts which have served well to thrill Wilson’s existing fans and expand his audience.
To begin the show, Steven and his well-seasoned band again performed the entire album Hand. Cannot. Erase, a concept record 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. On this night Ninet Tayeb (aka Nina) was not present to sing the devastating, beautiful lead vocal on “Routine,” though a recording of her vocal was used in part and the song was still a standout. With the focus appropriately on the five musicians on stage, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances graced the first half of the show.
After an intermission, the band continued with masterful versions of Porcupine Tree songs “Dark Matter,” “Lazarus,” “Harmony Korine” (again an enduring highlight of these shows) and “Sleep Together.” There was also a new track from 4 1/2, “My Book of Regrets,” followed later by “Don’t Hate Me” (originally a Porcupine Tree song from 1999’s Stupid Dream). These sounded equally fresh and powerful, despite another missed opportunity to hear Ninet who is featured in studio on the latter remake. Wilson began the encore of three songs with a Prince cover “Sign of the Times” which he promoted as a better choice than the typical cover of that artist’s rich and varied catalog. So true. Next up, a stellar rendition of Porcupine Tree song “The Sound of Muzak” and closing the show, the gorgeous title track from Wilson’s fantastic album The Raven Who Refused To Sing, a song he described as representing his best work, an agreeable notion for many fans.
Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging this 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 Masonic. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the increasingly well-rehearsed 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. It was plainly visible that each one of the musicians has become exceedingly adept and delivering this material – in particular Kilminster and Holzman cranked out a number of superb progressive-laden solos throughout the evening.
Wilson 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 set; an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater. 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.
There are a handful of shows remaining in the U.S. this year, along with two in India, with no other plans announced at this time – get there if you can…nothing lasts forever!