For the second time in its lifetime, the Porcupine Tree temporarily
stroke root on Berlin ground.
But before quite a large number of fans could indulge their passion,
there was to be a support act. The same appeared to be not much
of a support but a rather annoying hold-up of the main act. It
consisted of man with a weird hairdo named Jeff Tarlton, whose
set was just as weird - a crude mixture of uneven song fragments
and heavy sound checking. And you couldn't always tell which was
what. The man kept fiddling with his guitar, kneeling on the floor
somehow, every now and then triggering a tape and singing a few
words. OK, I've learned that the Detroit-born Tarlton has released
two albums so far (on Delerium records, by the way), which were
relatively warmly received. But I am also aware that he left big-business
America to go busking in the Berlin subways and playing small
bars. While that may be a great shift in perspective for him,
he certainly failed to connect with a hall of waiting Tree enthusiasts.
Mercy was with them,
as Tarlton left the stage after only twenty or so minutes. Then,
the technicians took their time preparing the stage for Porcupine
Tree. Waiting, by the way, seems to be an integral part of
concerts, though in this case it was sweetened be the sight of
Mr. Wilson's famous little carpet being rolled out, and a huge
board of pedals and switches installed in front of it. Finally,
some dry ice vapour rose, and from the speakers emanated sounds
immediately recognizable as 'Tree-ish'. It was to be a loooong,
droning intro with bits and snippets taken from various songs.
The audience stared into the blue mist, trying to make out someone
with a guitar stepping forward. And ultimately, he came - Mister
Steven Wilson. With him, bass player Colin Edwin, keyboardist
Richard Barbieri, and two new faces, drummer Gavin Harrison, and
supportive guitar player John Wesley, entered the stage. John
Wesley, an experienced musician who has released a few solo
records, is widely known for his affiliations with Fish
(two entirely different and totally separate things, for those
not yet in the know).
set the scene for the gig: fierce pressure galore, the occasional
soft interlude, and brilliant soundscaping at all times. Sound
of Muzak kicked in second, and when it came to an end, Wilson
made a quick survey in order to make sure not too many in the
audience have seen the band in previous shows: "OK. Good.
So it'll not be too embarrassing playing the same old stuff again."
Of that stuff, Gravity Eyelids was next. Here, Wilson surprised
by rather expressive gestures whenever his right hand wasn't needed
on his chords. It also occurred to me that he raised his voice
not to the full extent as heard on the album. That may be attributed
to mid-tour vocal exhaustion or to artistic license - who knows.
The now-classic Even
Less didn't fail to enchant the crowd. During its outro the
stage fell half-dark, with Wilson and Edwin turning their backs
to the audience. But before long, Edwin - spot on! - turned around
to launch a bone-crunching rendition of Slave called Shiver,
another tour favourite. Have I mentioned that Edwin's bass playing
faculties are beyond comparison? His contribution to the feel
of the music is just huge, and this becomes most apparent in a
live setting. The beautiful Waiting met nostalgic cheers
from the crowd, being one of the oldest tracks in the set this
evening. Then, more contemporary material followed in the form
of Hatesong and Russia on Ice - strong performances
of two of the strongest compositions off the overly strong Lightbulb
Sun album. A treat indeed, as the band came to shine in lengthy
instrumental sections. Richard Barbieri deserves a special mention
here, as his performance turns out to be much more than the glue
between rhythm and lead - the sound tapestry he creates, the effects
he triggers, the keys he strikes all amount to quite some part
in the Porcupine Tree live experience.
Pumping and pounding,
the next track came along: The Creator has a Mastertape.
Gavin Harrison was really put through his paces on that one. Who'd
have thought that the band could find a worthy replacement for
the truly gifted Chris Maitland, who had left in February 2002
"for personal reasons"? But they did, and 'replacement'
is certainly the wrong term here I guess. What pressure, what
precision, what liveliness! It is the drummer's performance that
has live music develop that overwhelming immediacy, as drum sound
waves bring about a downright bodily experience. Having been delighted,
well, ensnared by Harrison's play, I would not hesitate to declare
him the unofficial star of the evening.
To offer an opportunity
for the audience to calm down a bit, the band played the incomparably
saddening Heartattack in a Layby, only to have it followed
by another exciting pound-along: Wedding Nails. Impressive
guitar work on that one. Wilson treated his instrument as if it
was washboard, but still- the result was flawless. All in all,
Wilson's appearance during the show differed somehow from how
I remembered him from previous gigs. This time, he seemed much
more *present*, in a way, even talkative at times. And if you
looked very closely, you could sometimes spot a shy smile gracing
the front man's juvenile face.
The encore section
had Shesmovedon at first, which was followed by Dark
Matter, an oldie of sorts from the 1996 Signify album. The
band waved goodbye and disappeared, and apparently that was it.
But wait- that hasn't been a good goodbye, has it? And indeed,
the five appeared once again and did one final encore: Trains.
In mid-song, one of Wilson's chords snapped, and he had to call
for another guitar, which was swiftly delivered. A proper goodbye
concluded the gig - five happy faces on the stage, and hundreds
In the end, seven
cuts from the current album In
Absentia had been played. With five songs stemming from Lightbulb
Sun and Stupid
Dream, only two tracks in the entire set dated from the pre-Stupid
Dream era. Porcupine Tree evidently feel very confident and comfortable
with what one might call their new sound: rougher, more song-oriented,
dark and unsettling in places (lyrics!), multifaceted, incorporating
even industrial and heavy metal undertones. The Tree's melancholic
and psychedelic touches, however, hardly rub off, they're trademarks.
Wilson's music is alive and honest, it is evolving, it is progressing.
It is accessible, but not simple. Taking the band's incredible
live capabilities into account, one must come to the conclusion
that with Porcupine Tree we have the rare case of a band that
is almost inevitably going to move something on a grand scale.
So go and spread the word: The Tree is growing.
013, Tilburg, The Netherlands, April 16th, 2003
By Bart Jan van der Vorst
The last time I saw Porcupine Tree, it was in a tiny pub-style venue, in front of a 45-head audience. Due to me being pretty much in the wrong place at the right time any time Porcupine Tree toured next, it was nearly six years later when I saw what was to be only my second Porcupine Tree gig, this time playing in front of a 1800 head audience.Setlist:
Now for the people who think Holland is a small country, where you can conveniently travel from one end to the other within just hours, let me put the record straight. We have this thing called traffic. Traffic is basically a line of cars that doesn't move much about on the strips of tarmac which we call "speedway" (which is a silly name as it involves anything but speed, well, speeding tickets maybe).
In order to pursuade people from not taking the car, we have this invention called "trains" which are designed to almost get people to their destination in a timeframe which makes the average cricket game seem short. Local municipal governments also take part in this persuasion by making city centres absolutely impossible to reach by car, and raising exorbitantly high parking fees.
And so I came to Tilburg by train, only to find out that the 013 venue actually does not partake in this scheme, and tonight's concert was scheduled to start at nine o'clock... with a support act! Porcupine Tree was scheduled to start their show at 10, which was just brilliant, since I'd had to leave in order to catch the train, connecting to the last train to my hometown, at 11.15. My friends actually had to leave at 10.45, so neither one of us would be able to see the full show. Oh, how we love the public transportation in our country. And just to get one thing straight: it's not that we actually live far away, that Tilburg is the other side of the world. No, it's just some 80 kilometres, yet that takes 2 hours by train...
So, with this in foresight, I really had problems getting myself to enjoy tonight's show. Support was Belgian band Moonlake, which by no means were bad. But I had come to see Porcupine Tree, and every minute these guys played would be a minute less for me to enjoy Porcupine Tree.
At around five to ten the familiar notes of the opening of Even Less were played, and the concert was set to begin... but it didn't! What followed was a ten minute intro tape, which consisted of sound effects from Even Less and Tinto Brass - it just seemed to go on and on forever.
When the band finally took the stage they launched into Blackest Eyes, off their last album In Absentia. Judging from the crowd's response the new album went down very well (I personally still have problems with it) and the next two tracks that were taken from In Absentia were welcomed with equal enthusiasm.
The first venture into 'older' material came with modern classic Even Less. Incidently a song that was first played during the previous tour I saw Porcupine Tree. Back then it was still a 15-minute epic, and I secretly hoped they'd play this version, which can be found on the Recordings album. They stuck with the normal album version however - still a treat!
The song was followed by Pure Narcotic another favourite of Stupid Dream.
The band then moved to Lightbulb Sun with the fantastic Hatesong - a starring role for the King Of Laid-back basslines™ Colin Edwin.
Holland was to be the end of the long tour, which spun 16 countries in total, and with only two more gigs to go after this, the band seemed to get loose a bit.
The band itself also had changed
As always with the 013, atmosphere was rather poor. Although the audience duly applauded after each song, Steve Wilson's in between-song talk and jokes got no more than just a tame reaction.
On a lighter note. The next day I managed to find some tickets for the sold-out show in Amsterdam, to which I travelled by car.
Sound Of Muzak
Slave Called Shiver
Waiting Phase One
Russia on Ice
The Creator Has A Mastertape
Heartattack In A Layby
Sound Of Muzak
Waiting phase One
Russia On Ice
Strip The Soul
Heart Attack In A Layby
Sound Of Muzak
Slave Called Shiver
Last Chance To Evacuate Earth Before It Is Recycled
A Smart Kid
Russia On Ice
Heartattack In A Layby