Album Reviews

Issue 2010-042: Porcupine Tree - Anesthetize [DVD] - Round Table Review

Round Table Review

Porcupine Tree - Anesthetize

Porcupine Tree - Anesthetize
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Kscope
Catalogue #:kscope507
Year of Release:2010
Info:Porcupine Tree
Encoding & SoundStereo, DTS 5.1

Tracklist: Intro (2:07), Fear Of A Blank Planet (7:34), My Ashes (4:46), Anesthetize (17:20), Sentimental (5:18), Way Out Of Here (7:47), Sleep Together (7:54), What Happens Now? (8:09), Normal (7:13), Dark Matter (8:57), Drown With Me (5:21), Cheating The Polygraph (8:11), Half-Light (5:28), Sever (5:37), Wedding Nails (5:43), Strip The Soul / .3 (8:17), The Sleep Of No Dreaming (5:31), Halo (8:34)

Blu-Ray Extras: Live Films by Lasse Hoile: Way Out Of Here, My Ashes, Wedding Nails, Strip The Soul / Dot Three, Nil Recurring

Ed Sander's Review

The concert on this DVD was filmed on October 15th and 16th in the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands. When the band started working on The Incident this DVD project had to be put on ice for a while. Now that the band is touring it's successful latest album extensively the release of this DVD is not only a tasteful snack for the always release-hungry Porcupine Tree fans, it's also a nice walk back to the years when things weren't about incidents but about bored kids on prescription drugs. Enter Anesthetize.

The Setlist: One of the strengths of this DVD is the setlist. The filming of the show was done to close the Fear Of A Blank Planet era and as such it's no surprise that the setlist includes the full album plus 3 out of 4 songs of the Nil Recurring EP that followed it (the title track of the EP was not played at the two gigs in Tilburg). The rest of the set consists of a revisiting of the Signify album with no less than 3 songs (Sever, Dark Matter & Sleep of No Dreaming), two excellent 'rarities' that were released as B-sides and should have been on their respective albums (Half Light and Drown With Me) and the remaining songs being taken from In Absentia and Deadwing.

Not all of the songs that were played during the two days are included on the DVD. Stars Die, Open Car, Blackest Eyes, Prodigal and Trains are missing. Most of these were included on the band's previous DVD Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, but it's really a shame that they excluded the beautiful Stars Die. I'm not sure why they decided to omit it since it was played (and thus recorded) on both days. Prodigal is not one of the band's most interesting songs, but although it was not included on the DVD, it can be found as a bonus on the CD version of the concert that comes with the limited edition box set (which also includes a Blu-Ray disc and a beautiful hardcover book with live pictures). Taking all of this into consideration the setlist still is a real smasher. There's only one song overlap (Halo) with the previous DVD and chances are that you won't hear the band play many of these songs any time soon again.

The Performance: The days that Porcupine Tree would expand and rearrange their material during live shows are far behind us. Don't expect a performance like you'll find on Coma Divine. Nowadays most of the songs are played as note-by-note copies of the studio versions. This is probably partially caused by the tightly directed nature of the show, which included a lot of backdrop projections that do not allow for a lot of improvisation. Also, with a rich back catalogue of material the band probably prefers to play as many songs as possible instead of going into minute long improvisations. Having said that, there are a few moments where the songs differ from the originals. Dark Matter has an extended spooky intro by Barbieri on keys and Strip The Soul is merged with .3. Originally, as a demo, .3 used to be part of a 16 minute version of Strip The Soul, which would later return to the heavy chord section of that track. This 'medley' is the closest you'll get to hearing the band play the original version.

Regardless of the lack of differences with the studio versions the performances are remarkable. Most of the higher vocals are done by extra guitarist John Wesley, resulting for instance in a stunningly beautiful version of Half Light that brings tears to my eyes. The only time where the vocals are lacking is in the chorus of Drown With Me. Although the live version is very enjoyable Wilson and Wesley cannot make up for the close harmony splendour in the original. As such it's a shame that the other band members don't do any backing vocals.

The band members are clearly enjoying the performance, with drummer Harrison looking super concentrated, bassist Edwin grinning as widely as ever and even Barbieri being caught on camera with a wide smile on numerous occasions. Steven Wilson quite often moves over to Edwin and John Wesley for some interplay in the instrumental bits. Talking of Wesley, he doesn't only do a lot of vocal duties, he also plays a substantial portion of the guitar solos. Also, I need to add that while I really missed Chris Maitland when In Absentia was released, Harrison's drumming has become an inseparable part of the sound of Porcupine Tree. It's a joy to see and hear Harrison's enormous technical skills on this DVD.

Visual Aspects: The 013 venue has been the place of a few other live recordings, some good, some dreadfully bad. IQ's Subterranea: The Concert recording was okay, although the footage did not excel in sharpness. Spock's Beard's Don't Try This At Home was a downright disaster. I don't know if it's the advanced technology of recent years or the skills of the film crew but the recording of Porcupine Tree's gig outshines all of these recordings, and many others at different venues. The footage is razor sharp, taken from interesting angles (e.g. a view from above on Harrison's kit and even under (!) his kit and from between a forest of cymbals, and a full view on Barbieri behind his keyboard rig), there's a lot a dynamic moving footage from the front of the stage and many excellent short shots of members of the audience that get absorbed in the band's music. But there's also extreme close-ups of hands on instruments and faces of the musicians, resulting in a very diverse film.

Lots of songs (including all songs from Fear Of A Blank Planet) come with backdrop projections that are shown on three projection screens at the middle and sides of the stage. This is the only time I've seen the band use three screens it works very well. These mainly come into view during the full-stage shots, but it also enables the camera crew to film from specific angles and almost always capture the screen projections in the background.

The lighting for the show is also very well done and the backdrop curtains are used in smart ways to create atmospheric patterns during songs that do not have projections, or to enhance the stage around the projections, like at the start of Sleep Together when Steven's in a spotlight while yellow beams search the stage and audience.

Another visual gimmick you'll see during the show is a video guitar with an egg shaped LCD screen behind the strings, build by Visionary Instruments.

The Audio: The DVD comes with a stereo and DTS 5.1 mix. As we've come to expect from Mr. Wilson the surround mix is very well done. I do have to add though that this is the first DVD that had me adjust my speaker balances. I found the vocals in the mid channel rather low in the mix, as if Steven was insecure about his singing and tried to hide it behind the other instruments. It could also be that my normal preference for Dolby 5.1 just has me use different surround setting.

The Editions: This DVD was released in various different versions. First there's the 1 disc retail version with just the DVD. Then there's the 2 disc retail version with DVD + Blu Ray disc. The latter has 5 backdrop movies by Lasse Hoile as bonus material (a shame these were not included on the regular DVD, which does not have any extra's). Finally there's the limited edition, which was available in two colours (red and grey). Like with Wilson's solo album and The Incident this limited edition comes as a cloth bound hardcover book that includes 120 pages of live photo's of the band. Besides the DVD and Blu-Ray disc the limited edition includes also includes two CDs with the full concert and the mentioned bonus track Prodigal. Originally, Wilson had planned to release a different concert on these discs but for some reason that recording from Atlanta did not end up in this box set and is now available from Burnish Shed as a download, with the profits going to the Mick Karn Appeal and Macmillan Cancer Support. The limited edition has long been sold out, but you might come across some copies being sold on eBay at extortionate prices.

All in all an excellent new release that was well worth the long wait. No arty-farty fiddling with effects like on Arriving Somewhere But Not Here but a high standard registration that brings back the memory of being there. And for those who were not there, it's a stunning representation of the bands common day live shows. Highly recommended.

Hector Gomez's Review

Let’s set the record straight, shall we? Porcupine Tree is, in my humble opinion, the best rock band in the world right now. Why you say? Well, I don’t need to tell you, because you probably know them very well by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s why: because no one else manages to balance mainstream rock with experimentalism better; because no band mixes catchy pop with crushing metal riffs with their flair; because no bunch of musicians manage to play so unbelievably tight yet, at the same time, so organically; because they have the best drummer in the world, and their frontman is probably one of the best composers and producers around; because of their flawless live shows, their masterful studio recordings...

Because, yet being a great band, they seem to keep their feet on the ground, only living for their craft: music. In fact, Steven Wilson’s brainchild could be the new Rush, in the sense that, as much as they’re enormously successful and respected, they seem to remain largely out of the limelight; this allows the band to keep progressing and refining their art without paying too much attention to album charts and record sales.

And all this leads us to this Anesthetize DVD, again a brilliant proof of what this extraordinary band is all about. Recorded at Tilburg’s 013 (surely, one of prog’s most sacred places) on the 15th and 16th of October 2008, the 2 hour set acts as a fine compendium of the Fear Of A Blank Planet cycle, including the whole album (which means a stunning Anesthetize awaits you) as well as a generous chunk of its ineludible companion EP Nil Recurring (all of it, including the brilliant What Happens Now?, but the instrumental title track, which is a shame as it is an excellent piece), seasoned with a well balanced selection of songs from the ever popular In Absentia, some older tracks from Signify and even a host of B-Sides and obscure songs.

In fact, there’s only one track, Deadwing’s Halo, which is duplicated in relation to the previous live DVD, Arriving Somewhere...; so no Trains, no Blackest Eyes, no Lazarus, no Even Less... You shan’t worry, as for every “overplayed” (and I say this with the best intentions) hit, there’s an older classic or overlooked gem: Dark Matter, Drown With Me, Half-Light...

The performances are, of course, marvelous, with the perfect mix of sobriety and virtuosity only a band like this can manage. Again, hats off to the incredible drumming by Gavin Harrison, Colin Edwin’s subtle but infectious bass lines and, last but not least, the depth and richness of Richard Barbieri’s synths and soundscapes. Special mention to John Wesley on vocals and guitar; I wouldn’t mind if he becomes a regular member (but also I appreciate his independence).

Hats off to Lasse Hoile, too, as the quality of both the filming and editing is top notch, showing how well he knows the band’s repertoire, shooting with extreme precision and confidence each song and extracting every nuance and detail from every piece. Some people found the visual effects included on the previous DVD to be too intrusive, but this time the images remain largely unadulterated, showing the band and the screens without all the distracting effects; despite of that, Hoile’s unmistakable visual style is evident on the camera shots and the light and colour treatment.

Sound quality is, needless to say, near perfect (as live shows go). In fact, my only complaint, which has absolutely nothing to do with neither the music nor the visuals, is about the complete lack of bonus material (only some brief shots of the band backstage offer a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain). Again, if you need more than a bare DVD, you’ll have to go for the pricey collector’s limited edition, which may be wonderful but also, as its name suggests, is only for a few “chosen ones”. That’s what keeps me from rating this release with a 9.5... or even a bit more... Anyway, if you love your music, good music, you need this.

Dave Baird's Review

I'm reviewing the normal DVD release - I have the red-cover blu-ray limited, but no blu-ray player so...

I was tremendously excited when I heard that Porcupine Tree were going to be playing two consecutive nights at Tilburg 013 in order to record a new DVD focusing on the Fear Of A Blank Planet CD (which I reviewed with a perfect 10 and still rate as their best). Now God only knows why I chose to delay buying tickets which of course sold out very quickly. Fortunately our DPRP colleague Bart had a spare ticket for the second night so at least I could be there for half of it. It's always interesting to see a professional video production of a show where one has been present, often they tend to be unrecognizable and present a totally different experience from the event itself. In this respect Anesthetize is only partially guilty, a pretty decent job is done in representing the energy of the concert itself (at least the second night anyway, I can't vouch for the first).

A recent annoying trend in concert videos is the habit to change the camera angle every second or so and I'd say Anesthetize is partially guilty of this in places, but of course it's directed by Lasse Hoile who knows the music very well indeed and knows/feels when to jump around, when to pan, when to pause and who to focus on at any particular time. This satisfies visually with good movement and satisfies the musical nerds amongst us who are hoping the camera will jump to Gavin to show the upcoming tricky drum-roll, it does, how about those nice fat strings that Richard's about to play, the view switches there too, it's spot-on, I can't remember a point in the film where you feel you've missed anything. There's an array of inventive camera angles too - of course this was in evidence to on the first PT DVD, Arriving Somewhere, but in that case it was a bit too much, bordering on the "art-house". One really clever touch is that at some moments when the camera's on Gavin during some heavy parts it's shaking in time with his bass drums, very nice. I very pleased to report that there are no horrid and unnecessary video effects on display.

Talking of Gavin, his drumming is a joy to watch and is one of the highlights of this release for me - I'm not sure if he's grown into the band or the converse, but I couldn't imagine them without him any more. He's a the top of his craft, a consummate professional and, well, awesome to say the least and the director is smart enough to give him plenty of camera time. The real revelation for me though is John Wesley, he may be the an occasional fifth member, but that doesn't stop him getting plenty of screen time and it's as impressive as Gavin to watch. He's taking many of the lead parts, both guitar and vocals and handling them all with aplomb, I've grown quite some admiration for this guy now. As for the rest of the band, well Steven himself is his usual pissed-off-looking self, although he has his moments of openness. Barbieri is his typical enigmatic self only overshadowed by Colin Edwin who seems on another planet - he's a dead-ringer for master Oogway (that's the tortoise from Kung-Fu Panda in case you didn't know).

The video quality is second-to-none, sharp picture and intense colours, the lighting show comes across very well and I can't begin to imagine how luscious the blu-ray must look on a good TV. Likewise the audio is mixed to perfection - and that's just in stereo through my crappy TV speakers, I'm almost tempted to invest in a 5.1 system just so I can experience this deeper. Of course the playing is flawless. Sure most music videos have any performance glitches smoothed-put, but I don't remember hearing any on the night and PT are a highly experienced band and just don't make errors, it's note-perfect. Which leads me to the track selection and perhaps my only gripe. First of all I can't understand why they didn't include the track Nil Recurring, the other three from the EP are present and magnificent. Likewise I'm not so sure on some of the older material they added although Drown With Me is great as is Dark Matter. I could have done without Halo too, I never liked that track too much and they play it way too much live anyway - I'd have preferred Trains, yes I know that's overplayed, but I love it soooooo much. These are relatively small complaint though, OK perhaps missing Nil Recurring was a major faux-pas...

On the night itself Steven told a story about Way Out Of Here, he said when they were writing/recording FOABP they were contacted by the mother of a girl who had committed suicide under a train. She was listening to music when it happened and when they recovered the body they saw on the iPod that she had been listening to Porcupine Tree. As a result he re-wrote Way Out Of Here, which explains why it was different on the 2006 tour. This was a tremendously poignant moment in the show and touched me deeply; it took guts for Steven to recount this and I would have loved to have seen this on the DVD as it summed up so much of the FOABP album with a real-life tragedy. It's not there unfortunately, but is still fresh in my mind and comes back as I watch the film and as a parent my empathy goes out again to that mother and the pain she must feel.

This is a superb DVD, one of the very best I've seen for a long, long time, it's an absolute must for any fan of good progressive music and one that I know I'll watch time and time again.


ED SANDER : 9 out of 10
HECTOR GOMEZ : 8.5 out of 10
DAVE BAIRD : 9.5 out of 10

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