Steven Wilson: Night 2 – Royal Albert Hall 30th September 2015 – Concert Review

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Ah, back again. This time seated on the opposite side of the circle to the previous evening. The ushers offering to upgrade circle ticket holders to the stalls below – if they so wish – due to spare seating. I am in possession of a row 1 ticket for the circle, enabling me a birds eye view of the stage. I opt to stick with my lot. All the while thinking how foolish the general public are, for missing the opportunity to witness one of the best British artists around today.

The stage appears set for a support act. Indeed, they take the stage. It doesn’t take long to realise that the front man is comedy actor Matt Berry, of The Mighty Boosh, I.T. Crowd and Toast of London fame. I’d recognise that baritone bluster anywhere, “Fossil!”. And what a nice surprise he and his band are. I was completely unaware of his musical prowess, but they are a talented bunch that take in folk, funk, jazz, prog and a few other genres that i’m not sure have been fully identified yet. They dripped fun and enthusiasm, it was a shame they couldn’t have a little more stage time.

An earlier interlude than the previous evening allows the roadies to do their work. Preparing the stage, including a quick vacuum with a Henry, to ready the stage for the inevitable bare feet. The lights dim, the lighting engineer receiving rapturous applause for his fine work with the fader. Craig Blundell ambles on and gets comfortable at his kit. The initial hits of ‘No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun’ strike out into the hall. We know where this is going. Sure enough, Nick is on next. The familiar concert opening bassline locking in with the established drum pattern. One by one the rest of the band take their places and lock in. Mr Wilson arrives accompanied by expectant applause, the band launches into the number with commitment.

Upon its bombastic conclusion, Steven enquires as to who was present last night and who wasn’t. Hands are raised or cowed as required. He explains that tonights show will be very different from the preceding evening. Tonight would be more of a retrospective, dipping into both the distant and more recent past.

This is underlined as the band play a cut from Lightbulb Sun – ‘Shesmovedon’. Those that missed last night are now in luck. Steven introduces Ninet Tayeb once more to the stage, to perform ‘Routine’. Those of us who saw the previous performance know what to expect, but are no less excited to be charmed once again. Tonights version seems a little more freestyle, Ninet allowing herself to tastefully embellish here and there. Whereas the previous evenings Routine more closely resembled the album version we are all familiar with. It was still a surprise to hear how effortlessly powerful her voice is. And the bloodcurdling scream still gave me goosebumps.

Routine is followed up with some “dumb heavy metal”, as Steven states, before blasting out one of my original Porcupine Tree faves from Deadwing; ‘Open Car’. Sometimes ya just gotta cut loose, eh? It’s at these moments where I sometimes find myself frustrated at the trend towards seated venues that Steven has pursued in recent years. This has the benefit of allowing us to pay full attention to the performance, whilst indulging in some chin stroking. But, I fight the urge of my youth to want to jump around a bit. However, we are cultured adults now, and must act our age!

In my mind I am hoping they’re gonna follow Open Car with a bit of ‘Shallow’, purely for my own indulgence. Not so. We album hop to Stupid Dream, with a slice of the pining ‘Don’t Hate Me’.

At his juncture we have the good fortune to witness a quick guitarist substitution. Dave being swapped out for none other than his good buddy Guthrie. Some bands would kill to have one guitarist of this talent in their line-up, let alone two! The returning guitar wizard dazzles on Home Invasion and Regret #9, his piercing tone providing an interesting comparison with Dave’s full fat bottom-endy sound.

Then, another of the previous touring band is welcomed to the stage. Theo Travis arrives to embellish the journey through Steve’s earlier solo work. Following the highlight that is ‘Drive Home’, with Jess Cope’s fantastic video on show, we then embark on potted tour through Insurgentes and the Grace for Drowning era. Concluding with a (slightly) abridged version of ‘Raider II’, this leviathan leads us into the first encore break.

After only moments off stage, the band returns with the brooding Porcupine Tree cut; ‘Dark Matter’. Followed up by a rousing rendition of ‘Lazarus’ with none other than Gavin Harrison returning to the kit. Steve makes light of his award winning playing,  introducing him as having won “best drummer in the Watford Gazette”.

The evening draws to a close with a reprise of the previous evenings singalong to the ‘Sound of Muzak’. It’s use in closing the event serves once again as a reminder that what we have been lucky enough to witness is music that you must commit time to listen to. Not just because of its length or complexity. But because this music has been crafted. Care has been lavished on all aspect of its production. It rewards careful listening, in peeling back the layers, learning the melodies, taking interest in the themes, soaking in the imagery. It is not dispensable, it is not background music. It deserves our attention. It has worth. It is art.

In the face of being buried beneath the weight of the mainstream media chart music, it remains something worth searching out. It pays you back for putting some effort in as a listener. Much like a movie that requires you to think, rather than sit back and marvel at special effects. That, sadly, is something that becomes rarer by the day.

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So. Steven Wilson. The musical jewel in the crown, celebrated loyally by those in the know. Unknown to everyone else. But secretly, that’s the way we like it… isn’t it? 😉

With thanks to LH & AB

P.S. Steven plays Hammersmith Apollo next week Wednesday 27th January 2016. Go on, treat yourself!

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