First up, I am a massive fan of Steven Wilson’s former band Porcupine Tree. In fact, I rate them as among my favourite bands of all time. I’ve found his solo material to be not quite as compelling, although still very strong. This night, however, I enjoyed just as much as a couple of times I saw PT. The man is in scintillating form, and the band he has put together for this tour is immense.
Wilson is a prodigiously talented multi-instrumentalist. To the extent that he had three changes of an instrument in the intro of the first song before he even started singing.
For the next three hours (minus a fifteen-minute break) he and his band cast a magical musical spell that utterly enthralled the sold-out 170 Russell crowd. This was supported by some stunning visuals (including a period of the second set where the projection segments were played through an opaque curtain at the front of the stage, so the crowd could watch the images playing back and forth between the curtain and the rear-screen while still seeing the band play. It was quite an amazing effect) and a beautifully crisp sound that sat right in the pocket, loud but not uncomfortably so.
On top of all that, Wilson is a real showman. He does the extrovert rock star thing the way only a pale, well-educated Englishman does it, and like his great mate Mikael from Opeth, his between song banter almost amounts to standup comedy, as he takes the piss out of himself, audience members, Tool and others in an entirely good-natured way.
He played a structured set this night, the first hour and a bit being a straight run-through of his last full-length studio album Hand. Cannot. Erase., which itself was an entire journey. Then a short break, and then a rather tasty selection of material from his other solo releases, (thankfully) a select few Porcupine Tree cuts and tributes to two of his great musical idols who were lost to us this year, Prince and Bowie. He dedicated the PT track Lazarus to the latter and first encore was a rocked up version of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times, which they did as well as anyone who isn’t Prince possibly could.
This concert was a tour de force display of illustrious musicianship, elite songwriting and just a breathtaking nous as to how to put on an entertaining, electrifying rock show, replete with a whole bunch of quirky moments (for example, the lead guitarist Dave Kilminster actually screwed up the opening of the Hand. Cannot. Erase. title track and they had to start again. Nobody cared one iota.) that remind us that these people are actually human after all.
I get a little irritated when big international acts don’t have local supports (Porcupine Tree themselves had the amazing but sadly missed Melbourne progressive rock act Sleep Parade as support for both their Aussie tours), as that kind of exposure to a broader audience is vital if emerging local bands are to become bigger national and international bands. But I make an exception this time. The ‘Evening With’ format is ideal for an artist like Steven Wilson, who has one of the most exalted back catalogues in rock and is quite simply up there with the great musical geniuses of our time.
Photography by Sofie Marsen