October 31st, 2011
Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, the UK
With his second album, Grace for Drowning, released to critical acclaim a few months back Steven Wilson’s first solo tour arrived in the U.K.
for a sold out night at what is probably the perfect venue for this show, the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush.
There was a real sense of anticipation in the air and upon entering the hall the first thing to notice was a gauze screen across the front of the stage from floor to ceiling.
Having promised a completely immersive atmosphere for the audience Wilson’s production began bang on half past 7 as the audience was still coming in.
With the house lights dimmed, bleak and unsettling images worthy of this Halloween night appeared on the screen supported by throbbing industrial sounds that varied
and modified over time contributing to the sense of unease.
The images, fewer than a dozen over a 40 minute period, changed at a leisurely pace and ranged from a shrouded figure on a beach
and scenes around an autumnal seaside property culminating with a view of the sea from inside a window.
Until this point there had been little in the way of movement, other than wind and waves,
in the images but then the shadowy shrouded figure passed across and right up to the window, standing silently.
Despite being very unusual and a different way to build up to a performance this “film”,
made with visual collaborator Lasse Hoile who is also responsible for the other visuals used during the show,
unfortunately felt like something of a missed opportunity due to the lengthy build up, its static nature and lack of consistent visual interest.
With the screen still in place a spot picked out Marco Minnemann playing an intricate drum pattern joined shortly afterwards by Nick Beggs,
his bass pointing the way into first number No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun from Insurgentes.
Next up Aziz Ibrahim appeared firing off psychotic shards of guitar followed by keyboardist Adam Holzman and finally flautist Theo Travis,
all introduced out of the darkness by individual spot lights.
The band rattled through the opening number until the as always barefooted Wilson appeared to tumultuous applause in time to launch into the wall of sound guitar section.
A fabulous way to start what turned out to be one of the most absorbing gigs I’ve been to in a long time.
From my seat near the front of the Level One balcony I had a great view of the proceedings, the gauze across the stage remaining in place for much of the first hour,
creating an unusual visual canvas in front of the band but also forming a barrier between performers and audience that was eventually removed,
probably to the relief of many as the crowd response immediately moved up a gear.
The calibre of the musicians assembled by Wilson for this tour is awesome with special mention to Minnemann and Beggs who were simply superb.
I doubt there could have been a better choice than Minnemann for this tour as his edginess fitted the material perfectly and I could hardly take my eyes of him throughout;
an amazing talent and a pleasure to watch.
Beggs, wearing trousers tonight for a change but with bleached blond pigtails and shades resolutely in place as always,
has raised himself to an exalted position with superb performances in Steve Hackett’s band but here he took things to a whole new level on fretless bass,
Stick and Rickenbacker.
Ibrahim’s guitar filled in many of the gaps and created sonic atmosphere with sharp stabs and dissonance amongst fluid soloing while Holzman both
supported and led with superb keys adding a jazzy vibe, as you would expect from someone who spent 5 years in Miles Davis’ band, giving the material a new facet.
Theo Travis has played with a whole host of artists over the years but it was nice to see him fully integrated into a band setting here,
helping out on keys occasionally but adding so much to the overall effect with stunning bursts of flute, sax and clarinet.
He is a truly class act.
And so to Wilson, prowling the stage with low slung guitar and hitting astounding power chords one minute,
sitting at a desk-like keyboard set up stage front the next picking out delicate melodies.
His choice of mainly acoustic guitar tonight helped the variety in the sound and his singing was excellent throughout, supported by backing from Beggs.
At times Wilson appeared to cue in and conduct his band but this was a group performance in the best sense, a fascinating presentation of cutting edge rock music.
With the whole of the back of the stage given oven to projections of Hoile’s accompanying films and images which added greatly to the spectacle,
the set took a prime slice of cuts from both of Wilson’s solo albums to date and formed a well considered whole that flowed beautifully.
The moves from light to shade and soft to loud inherent in Wilson’s music were handled with a deftness that the material deserves.
Sound quality was superb without the need for excess volume and the delicate and quiet moments were fully audible while the more
metallic sheets of noise were clear and precise with no distortion.
This is the sound that should be achievable every time but so seldom is.
The quiet and melancholic nature of Deform to Form a Star, Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye and Postcard were handled exquisitely
and formed oases of calm within the more intense material, Dave Stewart’s orchestrations remaining courtesy of backing tracks, also appearing in a sinister rendition of Index.
Highlight of the night was no doubt the intricate set piece from the second disc of Grace for Drowning, Raider II with its King Crimson influences,
a mind-blowing exercise in precision that rightly brought the house down with majestic playing from the whole band.
Remainder the Black Dog is also worthy of mention being an off-kilter slice of sinister that worked well in the live setting.
Until this show I had not been able to fully get into Grace for Drowning, a very different album to Insurgentes which I liked straight away,
but that changed during the course of the show, each piece revealing itself in its true nature and I have since played the album with a renewed appreciation.
After an encore of sorts in Get All You Deserve with the delicate opening section perfectly counterbalanced by the wall of noise ending,
the perfect end to such a vital performance, the band were introduced one by one,
Wilson bringing them to the front of the stage to take a bow while their name appeared on the screen behind.
A simple yet effective device and with that the band took the applause and left the stage leaving Hoile’s work to fill the space again as the theatre emptied.
Overall this was an exemplary show and a textbook example of how to pull off a stunning modern rock event full of twists and turns with passion and minute attention to detail.
An atmosphere was built up and maintained throughout giving the show a feel all its own and I found the whole thing enthralling,
as did many others as you could hear a pin drop in the quiet sections.
A wonderful night out despite the long drive home afterwards and I would not hesitate for a moment before snapping up tickets for Steven’s solo shows in future.
No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun
Deform to Form a Star
Remainder the Black Dog
Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye
No Part of Me
Veneno Para Las Hadas
Get All You Deserve
Steven Wilson Official Website
Grace For Drowning Official Website
DPRP's Review of "Grace For Drowning"
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London