Since I had been struck down with the flue during the first leg of the In Absentia tour I was very anxious to see the band live during their second European tour supporting the album. The show would start at 21:00 hours, but at 20:45 a familiar face stepped on stage. John Wesley. As some of you might know, I have mixed feelings about Wes. He's got a fine voice and plays some nice acoustic and rhythm guitar, but I fiercely disliked his work with Fish, his trigger-happy American attitude and have seen him play a few too many support gigs. Still, his short 30-45 minute acoustic set wasn't too bad and also featured his trademark version of Seal's Crazy. Some people in the crowd made it more than clear though that they had enough and were waiting for the band to kick off.
Wes left the stage and a seemingly endless repeating of a roadie checking the guitars followed. First hilarious, later annoying, especially while you're waiting and being limited in your space to move (more on that later). So when the lights finally went down and the projection started it was a huge relieve .... for about 2 minutes .... then it became clear that it would take AGES for the band to come on stage while the In Absentia cover artwork slowly zoomed out and a single note noise (think the intro of Even Less) played.
I have gotten used to the heavier sound of the band on their latest album and was expecting a rather punchy setlist. And it sure was. Not only was the level of the sound in the venue very high, the performance was indeed the heaviest thing I've seen the band play so far (and I've seen them about 5-6 times now). Having been a fan of the band since the Sky Moves Sideways era, I do have to admit that - even though the performance was great and individually the songs are top-notch - I find the current day Porcupine Tree gigs a bit had to swallow at times. In the pre-In Absentia years there was a fine balance between the ambient dreamy stuff and the rocking heavier stuff. Now the band had chosen some of their loudest material for the setlist. The few quieter tracks are hardly enough to catch your breath between the attacks on the senses. Even Tinto Brass, normally one of my favourites was at times lost in a jumble of guitar carnage.
And maybe all of this would have been okay if I'd have had more space to move around. The venue, De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, was sold out. And a sold-out Boerderij is a synonym for 'packed and warm'. 45 minutes before the performance started my girlfriend and I had positioned ourselves at the front left corner of the mixing desk. Trying not to move I found myself at the right end by the end of the gig, with an aching back and neck from trying to squeeze myself in positions in which I could both stand up and see the band. No sir, not a nice place to be. Sure, a sold out gig is great for the venue and the band but I prefer a half-filled venue or a spacious leveled venue like the 013 in Tilburg with it's lack of atmosphere any day above this. Porcupine Tree gigs are normally not extremely long but I was quiet happy when this one ended about 1 hour and 45 minutes after it had started.
There were a couple of nice surprises in the setlist. Seemingly the band is changing the setlist quite a lot and on this occasion we got 'rarities' like Fadeaway, Feel so Low and Futile. The latter has been performed by the band on their previous tour but has so far only been released on a DJ promo. Therefore I doubt if a lot of people in the crowd knew the song. It's another one of the heaviest things the band has done and, although a fine track in it's own right, I'm not sure if I should start worrying about the musical direction of the band. Fadeaway was a particular surprise, especially since Wes did the vocals on this one. I have to admit though that I first thought they had hidden some female backing vocalist somewhere.
Other highlights were Russia on Ice (the songs which probably sums op Porcupine Tree best) and the crowd taking care of the hand clapping during the break in Trains. I did miss a couple of tunes I would have liked to hear, like Heart Attack in a Layby, Shesmovedon, Dark Matter and Buying New Soul which were played at other shows. But hey, you can't win 'em all. Steve Wilson was even less talkative than at any of the previous gigs I've seen and seems to shy away behind his haircut as much as possible.
The addition of Wesley on rhythm guitar was a good one add really added to the overall sound of the band. I was also curious about the new drummer Gavin. He's a good drummer, but having seen Chris Maitland several times before I do not agree with many people who claim Gavin is a better drummer. As a fellow ex-DPRP editor said to me just before the gig 'he tries to fill every count with a subtile little cymbal crash or a hit on a tom'. And that's exactly why I found him inferior to Maitland. Sometimes less is better I much more prefer a wheel-timed and creative drum roll than a drum part bulging with bits of percussion. Also, at times this over-excited drumwork resulted in him getting out of synch.
The projections were marvellous. A big projection screen was set-up behind the band and during the gig stills and slides illustrating the psychopath theme of In Absentia were let loose on the audience. And damn creepy they were, scary enough to give you nightmares for the rest of the year. And you thought Seven and Silence of the Lambs were scary !
All in all, a fine performance and a great show. Setlist-wise a bit too much on the heavy side and another unpleasant encounter with a sold out Boerderij.