Porcupine Tree, Adom and No-Man
Sunday 30th December 2003
The Astoria, London, UK

By Charlie Farrell

London gig brings 'In Absentia' tour to a close

18 months is a long time to be on tour with any album and for Porcupine Tree it represents probably the longest period over which they have toured and promoted a single album. After several visits to the USA, where the tour originally kicked off, and two tours of Europe, the trek came to an end at the Astoria in London in front of a large and enthusiastic audience, a large number of whom appeared to be wearing the band's merchandise.

This being the end of the tour there were members of Marillion in the audience and two support acts, neither of whom I was aware we playing before I arrived at the venue. Had I know in advance that the first act was to be the duo of Tim Bowness and Pete Chilvers, I'd have made more effort to have arrived in time to hear their set of predominantly No-Man material. However I didn't feel too bad about missing Adom, a band whose first album was produced by Porcupine Tree's keyboard player Richard Barbeieri, as I had seen them supporting Porcupine Tree earlier in the year.

The Porcupine Tree set began with a video projection on the screen at the back of the stage. I presumed that it must be a new single, since it wasn't a song that I recognized. Then, as that faded from the screen, the five musicians arrived on stage (the four members of Porcupine Tree have been supplemented throughout this tour by ex-Fish axeman John Wesley) and went straight into a crunchingly heavy Wedding Nails. Not many bands would open up with an instrumental, but then this is no ordinary band.

Indeed they are a band who does like to move on and to experiment, so quite a few of the In Absentia songs have already undergone some modification over the course of this touring cycle. No doubt part of the change in sound is due to the tighter integration of John Wesley into the band. He is an excellent foil for Steven Wilson in both regard to his guitar playing and in the extra dimension that his backing vocals provide. While this enables the band to reproduce some of the layers of sound that are found on their studio albums, the additional guitar also means that the band has a much 'heavier' feel. While this approach was successful on tunes like Gravity Eyelids, I felt that the enchanting 'She's Moved On' from 'Lightbulb Sun' didn't work quite so well.

The heavier sound was accompanied with the video projection of sometimes quite disturbing images, creating a much darker atmosphere than that which was evoked during the Lightbulb Sun tour a few years ago. The use of visual effects have played a part in the band's live concerts for a number of years, but this certainly was the most professional audio/visual presentation I'd seen in some time.

The majority of material in the set was culled from the band's 3 most recent studio albums, In Absentia, Lightbulb Sun and Stupid Dream. However there were still one or two extracts from the band's large back catalogue, namely The Moon Touches Your Shoulder from The Sky Moves Sideways and the older Fadeaway, for which John Wesley sung lead vocal. All the same, Steven also asked the older fans to understand the band's need to move forward and explained that they "can't keep playing Radioactive Toy for the next 10 years".

It being the last night of the tour, Steven took the opportunity, just before the final number, to thank the tour crew and management. He also expressed his satisfaction at the size of the crowd, acknowledging in particular that most of those present would have only heard about the band only through word of mouth (or, I presume, The Internet). Strip The Soul brought the set to a close before the band said their goodbyes and left the stage. Loud cheers from the crowd brought them back on two occasions for a total of three further songs, of which Even Less, was the clear highlight of the almost 2 hour long set.

Wedding Nails
Sound Of Muzak
Gravity Eyelids
She's Moved On
Hate Song
The Creator had a Master Tape
The Moon Touches Your Shoulder
Russia On Ice
Feel So Low
Strip The Soul

Even Less

Blackest Eyes


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