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Steven Wilson’s Masonic Moment

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.

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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 wilsonsteven2016_cover_72dpimissed 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.

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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.

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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!

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Steven Wilson – A Special Night at The Royal Albert Hall

Wilson_RAH_ExteriorSteven 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.

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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.

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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
Drive home

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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)

Steven Wilson at The Warfield

Wilson_portrait_72dpiSteven Wilson brought his latest tour to the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on June 14, 2015. This is the second time I’ve seen him at that venue – the first being with his band Porcupine Tree on their last tour. Each solo outing from Steven and his band has been an increasingly intense, powerful experience. On this night, while retaining all the darker, melancholic aspects of prior visits, the whole seemed a bit brighter, owing to the more modern, accessible nature of this latest album, Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015). This new work is a concept album that fictionalizes the true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not missed by anyone for over 2 years. The subject matter anchored an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater.

For those of you in Europe and the U.K., this tour is coming your way from 12-July through 9-February 2016. On the strength of the San Francisco show, we will be attending again at the Royal Albert Hall on 29-September. It’s a spectacular, stunning night of music and theater, not to be missed. Spoiler alert: read on only if you are fine knowing details of the show before attending!

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Steven 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. This night began with an introductory film focusing on the cold exterior of a non-descript apartment building, Wilson_apartment_72dpisetting the tone for the themes of urban loneliness and isolation from Hand. Cannot Erase. The band took the stage to perform all the songs on the new album save one, with just a few added tracks: “Index” from Grace For Drowning (2011), “Lazarus” from Porcupine Tree’s, Deadwing (2005), and “Harmony Korine” from Steven’s first solo album Insurgentes (2009). These songs resonated with the themes of his new record, as the liner notes confirm. That his new work would be featured, and form the core of the set, was expected and welcome.

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Gritty, surrealistic films from directors Lasse Holie, Jess Cope, and Yousef Nassar accompanied the music and were a highlight of the show. The film for “Regret #9” was a standout, with its animated tale of mundane moments in the protagonist’s daily life. Lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system in surround sound. Yet, the primary focus remained the band members demonstrating their skills throughout. 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 from Nick Beggs on basses, and skilled drummer Craig Blundell. Despite a jibe that he is the “weak link” in the otherwise excellent display of musicianship, Steven delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples, including evocative spoken word loops from Ninet Tayeb. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful core set.

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Prior to the first of two encores, a silver translucent curtain was dropped across the front of the stage. Additional projections were shown and for a time, the band played behind this curtain, their frames casting shadows falling in front and behind, creating a mysterious visual effect. The first encores “The Watchmaker” from The Raven That Refused to Sing (2013) and “Sleep Together” from Porcupine Tree’s Fear of A Blank Planet), were followed by a final encore, the beautiful title track from The Raven That Refused to Sing, ending the show in a stunning display of craft, verve and virtuosity.

Most of Steven’s solo work veers toward unrelentingly dark and sad subjects and matching tonality. After the song “Perfect Life,” Steven summed it up best: “This music is superficially miserable, but actually I’ve always found that kind of music very uplifting and being very beautiful going right back to my teenage years … it makes you feel good. I’m not quite sure how that works as I’m not a psychologist but I’ve always found that to be the case. There’s something about shared human experience that when you hear something really sad, melancholic, depressing, angry, then implicitly I think you understand that we are not alone in the world, that there is someone else that feels the same way we do – and let’s focus on that.” Made me reflect on how true that’s been of my own tastes in music and the profound impact it’s had on my life.

Wilson_bow_72dpiFor the uninitiated, when it comes to assessing your interest, note that while Stephen is very often associated with progressive rock and it’s 1970’s era practitioners, his sound is very much of today, and his influences are diverse. Follow Steven’s ongoing re-mastering work as engineer-for-hire, and the names of early inspirations will be apparent. At one point in the show Steven acknowledged his audience was more than “middle aged men in Pink Floyd t-shirts” (even though they’re great!) and that his influences go beyond 70’s conceptual rock. Before launching into “Harmony Korine,” he name-checked some of these artists from the 80’s and 90’s. “The music of my teenage years was the music of the 80’s and I still love this music … there is a lot of [it] in my DNA and I’m not talking about just the mainstream bands, I’m talking about Kate Bush, Talking Heads, and also a bunch of other bands that were only there if you sought them out. Artists like Sonic Youth, XTC, Cocteau Twins and … a musical genre called shoegazing music which came at the end of the late 80’s, into the start of the 90’s – bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Chapterhouse… it’s a specific sound that I absolutely loved and still love to this day and it’s in my music somewhere.”

Indeed, there are many influences that have been fused and evolved into something utterly unique by this multi-talented musician. I can’t think of another artist I’ve seen over these now forty years with a more accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to present it with the highest standards in concert. Treat yourself to a heavy dose by catching the band on this tour.