10th March 2007
Knitting Factory, Hollywood, USA
One has to got to hand it to Steven Wilson - he has singlehandly become one of the few space age pioneers in the Progressive Rock World to operate his own name franchise. Like Norman Lear before him who went on a creative roll after successfully developing All in the Family for American television audiences as a flagship show that spawned a whole slew of spin-offs, Steven Wilson has done the same in the realm of Progressive Rock, leading the charge with Porcupine Tree. Now in his successful spin-off band, Blackfield, Wilson has sort of created his counter-part spin-off band (a sort of Porcupine Tree - light, less fat and more filing in the three to minute song frame than most major leading 12 minute guitar solo saturated high calorie epics) in a sort of a similiar way that the Jeffersons - Lear's long running spin-off of All in the Family was able to "move on up" to carve an identity all its' own. Other fractures of the same family tree, such as No-Man and Bass Communion have branched off into their own entities while still retaining the flavor of the roots of their progressive rock founders that could be comparable to Norman Lear as he went on to create less lasting fare such as Good Times and Maude.
I've been anticipating seeing Blackfield live for the past three years having been such a anomoly to put in a appearance on the US western coast. Twice in the past they have attempted to perform in the LA area, but it was rumored that most of the band had exceeded their work visas when those dates came around and thereby mostly stood confined to the east coast; therefore some cancelled causualities included gigs at both the Roxy and the Key Club. Of course another theory could have been lack of radio airplay on most alternative rock radio stations at the time when the first album came out.
So it seemed perservence paid off in the end. Now with Blackfield II out - and a hyped up crowd of curiosity seekers (not to mention that we have one outstanding hell of a Israeli populace multiplying out here in Los Angeles) - it was no wonder that Blackfield sold out their show they way they did. It was perspicacious on my part to get my tickets early - when I found out that my nomadic wandering Israeli neighbours from downstairs at my living digs constantly praise the political songs of Aziz Geffen on a almost daily basis by blasting his Hebrew sung solo albums in the wee hours of the night. I told them that I was attending Blackfield's performance and maybe coerce one of them in giving me a free ride to the gig but they had to work on some other show of their own on the other side of town.
So I had arranged to meet a date that night. And she was running late. She herself is a fabulous musican and songwriter and is lucky enough to have her debut album listed on www.burningshed.com, which is a distributor with connections to Steven Wilson. Julie Minasian (www.julieminasian.com) called me frantically on my cell to let me know that she was on her way and probably wouldn't be arriving to the show until maybe a hour later after it started. She pleaded with me to leave the ticket with the box office and have it at will call. (I don't know if this procedure is even permissible - so I didn't even want to risk it) - but I kept reassuring her that the queue to get in the door wasn't even moving. Not budging one solidary inch.
The line was long and frustrating, especially when it says on the ticket that the doors are supposed to open promptly at 7:00 PM. Even the managers at the DSW shoe pavillion located in the same complex as the venue were busy pissing themselves because the line had extended all the way across the complex to the front entrance of their store was blocking the ins and out of customers. It wasn't long after until Julie arrived that the bouncers had finally started herding the cattle into the club at 8:45 PM!!
The only good thing about waiting in line for such a long while is that you can turn around and strike a conversation about prog rock sensibilites with most of your neighbors, despite the occasional rude interruptions by dumbass amateur ticket scalpers beleaguing you to fork over a ticket or to buy a ticket from them ( who when passerbys on the street ask who were playing - they didn't have a clue - they just sell tickets!!), but then that's where speculation of rumors orginiate. Why was the venue letting us in so late? Someone said that due to the nationality of some of the members of Blackfield and the opening act Miss Flag - that there may have been a bomb threat made. A few members of the opening band, Miss Flag stormed out of the club and a woman, immediately following behind started cursing about her boyfriend's band not making the support band cut and just vehemently heaved her ticket at me: Who the hell is this Blackfield? And what is it so special about them that they're sold out? I tried to explain to her that half the duo, Aziz Geffen is a big political songwriter in Israel - of nearly superstar status. Others grumbled in the queue that Steven Wilson or the management just didn't think the opening band could cut the Grey Poupon mustard during soundcheck. She just left in a huff, clutching her guitarist boyfriend's arm for moral support.
I took her ticket and sold it to the one of the "meatheaded" scalpers for face value. Everyone got a chuckle out of that. That little odd twist of the guitar string fate helped fray my cost for the official tour t-shirt as soon as I walked in the door - where John Weasley, just a man and his guitar went on the 'Front Bar' stage for a good tight twenty minute six song set that included the last two songs, Sliver and Thanksgiving Day being accompanied by a lovely young local Los Angeles female vocalist by the name of Chris Bradley. Perennial myspace page favorites, King of Seventeen and Johnny Drowning in Your Storm were also performed.
Then immediately after finishing a drinky-poo and sharing a basket of chicken strips with Julie, the house lights went down and the pulse pounding rhythmic sympatico tom-tom pattern opening of Once provided by Tomer Z reverberated throughout the hall. Immediately I knew from this moment onward for the next one hour and forty minutes: I was in very happy series spin-off elated state of bliss.
Out came Steven Wilson in a bright red shirt that looked like it had the Coke Cola emblem silkscreen on it - except it was spelled out in Hebrew as he exploded into the opening verse of Once - a song I've been listening endlessly (and playing on my keyboards for a while) on myspace. Then it was the second half of the songwriting duo Aviv Geffen's turn to rock out on the track that features his lead vocals called Miss U - but actually it turned out that bass player Seffy Efrati was the one trying to steal the spotlight with his inane moonwalking bopping up and down motion that he had on several occasions almost collided with Steven. It was really a small stage to demonstrate any physical activity - so I had my fingers crossed that no one was going to get hurt on stage this evening.
With practically no banter going on during the entire show - Steven launched in one of the hold over tracks from the first album - the first performed was the title track Blackfield - which was good for Julie in a way because she doesn't own the first album - so I had to tell her the names of the songs that were performed off that album ( the debut album is very hard to find out here - maybe Atlantic would consider re-releasing it on We Put Out- judging by the long wait to get inside here?). Then the band reverted back to the new album to perform Christenings - one of my favorite of the new compositions. It was at this point that I noticed that a lot of people knew most of the words to the new songs more than I did - having had freshly listened to it for the first time the previous day. (over a nicely breathed bottle of Merlot- just like one of the CD reviewers said to do) I guess purchasing your music off of Itunes pays off nowadays for few folks.
After running through Hole in Me - (my absolute fav from the first album) we went back and forth between the two albums. 1000 People was up next (minus the good synth part because it seemed that the keyboard player Daniel Salomen was strictly limited to what he could do or couldn't do with only one keyboard in tow), Pain immediately followed and Aviv took over the keyboard reins with a solo version of Scars. Then it was the sort of the second half of the show when Steven Wilson hooked up his acoustic guitar and furnished us all with a hauntingly beautiful stirring rendition of Alanis Morrisette's Thank You. While all the single girls were practically creaming in their jeans over the sight of Steve's adam apple and pec muscles straining to belt this number out (believe me, Julie was instantly memerized as well), I did not hesitate in going back to the concession table to purchase that on a single that Steve had pressed to sell at the shows (#6 in the Headphone Dust series).
Another great song from the new album, Epidemic was performed flawlessly. Great rocking tune that showcased Aviv going all punk with his vocals (not to mention a great hypnotic keyboard line). This got the best guage from the audience in my opinion. Following Some Day - Steven actually spoke into the mike for the first time that evening and told a little tale of Aviv and his first collaboration together which became the opening track off the first album, Open Mind.
The last song of the set was the real kicker of the evening - it's in my determination that this is the greatest writing that Steve and Aviv have done so far. The End of the World just made the whole set shimmer me with goosebumps all the way up and down my spine ( and I've just recently got over a case of the Shingles - so watch out!!) . I think both lyrically and melodically - this has made prog get off on a very good start in 2007. It was just magic to behold Aviv going all Roger Waters on us when he sung the entire last verse on his own.
The encore came swift and furious with three more additional numbers. Hello was slightly extended towards the end (what a great little ringtone this would make - would even work better as a outgoing machine on your answering machine) and then we segue back again to ....Once? Wait, I wasn't experiencing de ja' vu here, right? They played this one already! Maybe they finally ran out of stuff to play. (I noticed that This Killer was left off the set - maybe because it's too much like Porcupine Tree with two of the band's alumni contributing to the recording of this track?) - but I would've settled for hearing the bonus track from the first album, Perfect World performed live. However this second run through of the first song was slightly extended as it ended on Tomer Z's manic drum pattern repeated ad infinitium. Then the last song performed was Cloudy Now - which I admit was not one of my favourites off the evening - but hey, you can't have everything.
Julie was grateful that it wasn't such a long show as she had plans to fly out to Sacramento early the next morning - and plus we were put on daylight savings time alert that evening. As we were leaving the club, we ran into John Weasley; demos were exchanged and I verified details about John's set and all in all, we all had a very pleasant evening - despite the inconvenience that kicked the events in motion.
Norman Lear be praised. Spin-off series do indeed work in the realm of rock n' roll.
John Wesley Setlist
King of Seventeen
Please Come Back
Johnny Drowning in your Storm
Hole in Me
My Gift of Silence
Where's My Love?
End of the World
Blackfield Official Website
Blackfield MySpace Page
Aviv Geffen Website
Porcupine Tree Official Website
Steve Wilson MySpace Page