24 March 2018

Review: Steven Wilson – B’ham Symphony Hall 22nd March 2018

Where do I begin ???

My second visit to this prestigious venue in two days having previously witnessed the current incarnation of Yes on the 20th (see review), but this spectacle took things to a whole different level.

Been into music (PROPER music I hasten to add) since I was 14, having been introduced to ELP and YES and my first gig was Hawkwind on Dec 18th 1972. Since then I have attended many hundreds (if not thousands) of gigs and, over the years and bought what would probably be the entire contents of a small independent record store !!! Consequently, one tends to become somewhat jaded when it comes to the live music experience as, not since the glory days of the 70s, the genre is not exactly renowned for showmanship, lavish production and genuine entertainment (with the odd exception of course).

I’d like to quote SW here, from the Tour Program:
“I feel the same way about shows as I do albums – it should aspire to be some kind of journey, not just five or six guys shuffling on stage to trot out their latest album. Because once you get over the initial thrill of actually seeing the musicians up there on stage, it’s not enough. For me, it has to be a show, not just a recital” Couldn’t have put it better myself tbh.

All too many times, you may as well sit at home listening to the latest CD or live DVD than actually checking out the band live. Let’s face it, when you go to a gig, you KNOW the band can play their instruments (well, I fucking well hope they can !!), you KNOW they can play every track from their brand new release – it’s took for granted. So, with that in mind, why do you go ???? To be entertained…………… I’ve paid my money, so come on, entertain me FFS !! How many gigs have you been to where the audience may as well be showroom dummies, not accounting for the band by the way !! I digress, let’s get back to the review.

I think it’s probably safe to say by now, you will have guessed where this is going. I’ll start by saying, this is probably the best gig I’ve been to in many years and I’ll explain why.
We opened with a huge semi-transparent net curtain in front of the stage (standard for an SW gig) onto which a series of images was projected along with an ever changing set of headings to challenge our perspective of truth, to elaborate the concept behind the latest album “To The Bone”, very thought provoking. As the slideshow progressed, the band took to the stage accompanied by rabid applause, magic was in the air.

The line-up tonight – SW – Lead vocals, guitars and keys, Nick (THE man) Beggs – Bass, Chapman Stick, occasional keys and backing vocals, Craig Blundell – Drums and Percussion, Adam Holzman – Keys and Alex Hutchings – Guitars and backing vocals (stepping into the mighty shoes left behind by Guthrie Govan , Dave Kilminster, Niko Tsonev and John Wesley) – a formidable set of musicians indeed.

The evening was split into two sets , with a 20 minute interlude. Content was varied and included material from the latest album – “To The Bone” – (8 tracks), Hand.Cannot.Erase (3 tracks), Vermillioncore from “4 1/2”, 5 Porcupine Tree numbers and for the encore – an SW solo cover of a PT song “Even Less” then the band came back on for “The Sound Of Muzak” from “In Absentia” and the title track from “The Raven That Refused To Sing” complete with a disturbing animation on the back video screen.
With the set-list in place, let’s take a closer look at the presentation…

This is a man who demands perfection and jeez does it show. Although an incredibly gifted and versatile musician, the rest of the band are all outstanding in their particular field and help to bring to the production that element of professionalism and synchronicity needed to recreate such intricately conceived music to the live stage, you KNOW you’re in safe hands with these guys! Very much the conductor, the ringmaster, the coordinator, accompanied with a nod here a wink there, the entire production is overseen by SW. A self-confessed control freak, every member of the band gets their chance to shine with incredible lighting effects to draw focus at key points where necessary.

Nick Beggs, Bass God, prowls the stage, proving once again he is truly the go-to guy for this particular instrument. A master of his art and not afraid to put on a show, tweaking, preening and totally in sync with the music, the stage, the audience – a true legend. Craig Blundell, drummer extraordinaire. Having played with Kino, Frost* and a host of other bands, the man’s credentials speak for themselves. With Mr Beggs, these two form a rhythm section to die for and form the backbone of the music throughout the night, first class. Adam Holzman – with a predominantly jazz background, the perfect choice. A man who has demonstrated an incredible depth of understanding of this music time and time again throughout SW’s back catalogue. Finally, Alex Hutchings. New to the band, but up there with the best with solos throughout the evening that soar – superb.

Surrounded by an incredible set of musicians, amazing displays on the back video wall and the innovative front curtain, how can you not be impressed, all topped off with a quadrophonic sound system and for once, SW showed he is truly the raconteur. At key points during the night, SW regaled us with little asides and stories (for example, we had to hear about his newly acquired Telecaster, explaining how its sound inspired him to write “People Who Eat Darkness”). His annunciation was superb, clear indication of purpose and most of all, a wicked sense of humour which had us all in stitches. The man has come out of his shell to become not just the ringmaster, but a consummate front man with no sign of nerves and even got everyone upstanding prior to “Permanating” in an attempt to get us all disco dancing !!! Unfortunately, in true British reserve, looking around, not everyone felt they wanted to join in and figured they’d either “sit this one out” or simply stand still to at least “show willing”. I must admit, my wife and I got truly carried away at this point and were one step away from dancing in the aisles, well done sir, a superb piece of pop music to confound even the most ardent SW or PT fan – c-‘mon guys, get into the mood of the piece FFS.

In fact, humour abounded throughout the night and helped to create a healthy offset for some of the, at times, quite disturbing images and animations, courtesy of Lasse Hoile and Jess Cope. I was pissing myself when SW introduced the band. At one point, when Nick Beggs became the centre of attention, the rest of the band ran to one side of the stage waving at him, classic.

What more can I say ?? If you’ve been to one of the dates on the current tour, I know you’ll agree with me in that we have witnessed a close to perfect performance from an amazing set of musicians at the peak of their profession and judging by the tumultuous applause (egged on by SW himself LOL), the Brum crowd here tonight were no exception.
An immaculate conception from start to finish and a truly memorable evening. Michael Jackson may have been the King Of Pop, but I’d like to suggest we are truly in the presence of the King Of Prog, well done Sir !!