Porcupine Tree – Live at The Tabernacle

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While waiting for the Drive By Truckers to begin their show a couple months ago, I talked with another fan who shared very similar musical tastes.  In discussing bands like Pink Floyd, Renaissance, and (early) Genesis, he asked if I was going to be at The Tabernacle on April 27th.  I wasn’t aware of any upcoming concerts that had piqued my interest there, so he told me about a band called Porcupine Tree.  Apparently, I missed the boat on this band – for the last decade.  In any case, I decided to go, having heard only a few sound clips on Amazon that neither persuaded nor deterred. 

Arriving at The Tabernacle, a neoclassical structure built as a Baptist church in 1910, I was immediately confronted with numerous signs indicating "no cameras" or other recording devices.  That was a disappointment, as I've really enjoyed taking concert photos in recent months.  Entering the lobby, the security service was loudly reminding everyone "no pictures - keep your cameras and cell phones in your pockets."  This was a different vibe, to be sure, and combined with the Tabernacle's confiscatory pricing of beers (and miserly serving sizes), I was a bit put off.  Still, "no cameras" meant that I could enjoy the concert without standing, so up to the balcony level I went.  Being solo on this venture, finding a decent seat was not a problem.

Shortly thereafter, and opening on time, Bigelf, another band unknown to me, took the stage with a decent psychedelic/trippy and fairly hard rocking set.  The crowd seemed to gradually get into the band, as they were loud enough not to be ignored and good enough to give a listen.  Most notably, the lead singer had a unique positioning, as he faced the audience while playing keyboards on either side.  In keeping with their early 70’s sound, all band members sport ample facial hair, possibly updated for Pirates of the Caribbean.

Bigelf

During the intermission, I asked a couple people near me how they would describe Porcupine Tree…  I didn't really get an answer.  I asked which of their albums they favored…  I didn't really get an answer, other than "all of them."  Okay then!  About this time, I noticed a stagehand vacuuming the floor in final preparations.  What?

Minutes later, Porcupine Tree took the stage, a five piece band with keyboards, drums, bass, and two guitarists.  Steven Wilson, the leader, was front and center.  And barefoot. Thus, the vacuum cleaner.  The first song was "Occam's Razor," which leads their 2009 release, The Incident.  Wilson explained that they would play the entire CD, which I was pretty cool with.  As most CDs have their share of filler, it was a laudable risk.

Then, he warned against taking pictures and encouraged the crowd to politely ask anyone seen to be taking pictures to stop because it was distracting to the band.  Fair enough.  Going further, he cautioned, “Shouting a band member’s name doesn’t change anything.  If you still find it necessary, please do it in the loud parts.”

Needless to say, it was interesting to begin a concert telling the audience how not to show their appreciation.  That said, it led to a very undisruptive atmosphere that allowed everyone to hear clearly, and, fortunately, the acoustics were up to the job.  I’m fairly certain he’s just easily distracted, but it still works for those like me who like to listen to music.  As it turned out, their music demands close attention, and rebel yells or calls for “Freebird” were probably not likely from PT fans.

First, the band.  Keyboards included a variety of influences, including Mellotron type sounds – a distinctive keyboard that plays symphony instruments, but far from identical.  The unit was probably used most favorably by The Moody Blues and early King Crimson, but it’s a welcome staple of prog-rock.  Richard Barbieri’s playing was central to their overall sound, sustaining melodies, backing guitars, and inserting odd quirks and sounds.  This was definitely not “window dressing” background washes.

Colin Edwin played fretless bass, and he might be summed up as a man who knows how to go about his business.  He’s obviously part of the rhythm section, but he finds the low end quite frequently, powering the band’s more aggressive sections.

On drums, Gavin Harrison was always busy but never calling attention to himself.  He did what suited the music, which is, in my book, just what he should. 

The guitarist, John Wesley, did whatever needed doing.  He played some excellent leads, played rhythm when needed and sang backup vocals more than capably.

Steven Wilson, though, is the main creative force in the band.  He writes and sings the songs, as well as plays guitar.  His voice, fortunately, is not built for “American Idol.”  He may yet find radio airplay, but the band’s material seems unlikely to find popular “radio friendly” appeal.  That’s a cost of being a progressive rock band.  Besides, they can always sell out later and compromise their art for a few more bucks. (Yes, anyone?).  That said, his voice was incredibly strong and clear.  He appeared to give his all playing his music, which must be difficult to sustain when playing 5 or more nights per week.

Musically, the band was tight.  A video played on a screen behind the band, often synched with particular songs.  When it came to the stage show, lighting was often simplistic, and the only movement came from Wilson as he worked his way around the stage during instrumental sections or swapped out guitars. 

Songs that had a strong chorus seemed to have the largest crowd response, such as (I now surmise to be) “Drawing the Line,” “Time Flies,” and “I Drive the Hearse.”  Following The Incident, the band took a 10 minute break, with a timer on the video screen.  As it counted down to zero, the band returned ready to play.  Bravo.

The following hour included a variety of songs that were obviously popular from previous releases.  I liked “Lazarus” the best, but the others were good as well. 

I got a sense from The Incident portion of the show that I need to pay further attention to this band.  Progrock can easily fail.  It can be pretentious (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), detached (Yes), self-absorbed (Pink Floyd) or nonsensical (early Genesis) in music and/or lyrics.  Porcupine Tree did not seem to suffer from any of these.  Even though they frequently tend towards Pink Floyd and latter day King Crimson instrumentally, musical transitions from one section to another is not a priority, and it took me a while get accustomed to their Porcupine Tree - Steven Wilsonabrupt hard/soft style.  But, by the end of the evening, I was definitely a fan and will be exploring their work.  It was a great show, and I’d go to see them again.

Admission:  During the encore, when it made sense to risk being kicked out, I took about  10 pictures… with the LCD screen closed.  Two of them were focused.  One is decent.

The setlist and band member details were borrowed from another online review found HERE.  Thanks.

Setlist:

  1. Occam’s Razor
  2. The Blind House
  3. Great Expectations
  4. Kneel and Disconnect
  5. Drawing the Line
  6. The Incident
  7. Your Unpleasant Family
  8. The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train
  9. Time Flies
  10. Degree Zero of Liberty
  11. Octane Twisted
  12. The Séance
  13. Circle of Manias
  14. I Drive the Hearse

Intermission

  1. The Start of Something Beautiful
  2. Russia on Ice
  3. Anesthetize (Part 2: “The Pills I’m Taking”)
  4. Lazarus
  5. Way Out of Here
  6. Normal
  7. Bonnie the Cat

Encore

  1. The Sound of Muzak
  2. Trains

1 comment :

  1. Interesting. I may have to hear some of their music. Thanks for the post on a band with a "tude." In reference, of course, to their initial start up.

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