Steven Wilson–Live at Center Stage

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This was my third time seeing Steven Wilson in concert, the first time with his group Porcupine Tree featuring fine musicians that he creatively controlled, and twice as a solo artist, with accomplished musicians that contribute musically.  A bit backwards, eh?  In any case, this is the Hands.Cannot.Erase tour, in support of his last album of that name, and a generous 3 hour show. 

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Generous, as the last stop in town supporting The Raven that Refused to Sing, included the entirety of that album, plus a handful of songs afterwards.  Also, both of the past shows had a very formal feel – Wilson set the tone that everyone be gathered for a presentation by the band, rather than a participatory environment.  This night, Wilson acknowledged that his “heart sank” when he saw the venue had seats – this was to be a rock show in a venue perfectly designed for his previous visits, with tiered rows even.  In any case, it was perfect for me. 

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The sound quality was a smidgen short of excellent, with Nick Begg’s bass sometimes rumbling through too much.  But otherwise, the instruments were well defined, and Wilson’s voice was clear.  Absent was female vocalist Ninet Tayeb, who accompanied the band for an earlier segment of the tour.  Her voice appeared courtesy of a Mac,  but I had hoped that she might have contributed to other songs, adding a warmth or, at times, an operatic quality that benefits Wilson’s music.

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Highlights included anything with Tayeb’s voice – “Routine,” “Ancestral,” and the reworking of Porcupine Tree’s “Don’t Hate Me” – as well as “My Book of Regrets,” and “Index,” a very creepy song that conjures Silence of the Lambs.  Also, Wilson was chattier than other shows, talking about Bowie, Prince, and the modern challenges of pop music… There was self-deprecating humor as well, given his generally depressing themes – something along the lines of music is his way of working them out, then putting them onto his audience…

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Instrumentally, I was most impressed with former Miles Davis sideman Adam Holzman on keyboards, adding retro prog sounds regularly, and watching Nick Beggs play a “Stick” bass is always interesting.  In any case, the band was excellent.  The presentation was as well, with frequent videos or animations featured with songs, and an ever changing light show.  A drop curtain at the front edge of the stage added a nice visual from a distance capturing projections interestingly – it had annoyed me during the last tour, distorting the view as I was closer to the stage. 

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The crowd was varied in all the right ways – various ages, many sporting their requisite black concert T-shirts of favored progressive rock bands.  A surprising number brought dates, and one gentleman brought his wife, daughter and son-in-law – the latter two apparently uninitiated to Wilson’s music.  Also, I’ll call out my concert buddy for failing to pay for sufficient parking time, thus having to exit early.  Really?

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The opener, John Wesley, who toured with Porcupine Tree when they were active, was disappointing.  While the guy can play great guitar leads, he focused on songs from his newest album, a significant step down from his previous release.   Any nuance in vocals and guitars was obliterated in a aural wall of pedal effects, sadly.   It’s just not necessary.

Set list:

First Regret
3 Years Older
Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Perfect Life
Routine
Home Invasion
Regret #9
Transience
Ancestral
Happy Returns
Ascendant Here On

Intermission:

Dark Matter
Index
My Book of Regrets
Lazarus
Harmony Korine
Don’t Hate Me
Vermillioncore
Sleep Together

Encore:

Sign of the Times (Prince)
The Sound of Muzak
The Raven That Refused to Sing

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club–Live at Masquerade

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I guess email marketing works.  I’ve been reminded of this upcoming concert several times a week from the various events/tickets/entertainment emails I get.  Absent my concert buddy, my son leapt at the chance once he heard that Death From Above 1979 was playing with them.  I thought that they were opening for BRMC, but it’s more of a co-headlining deal as evidenced by a good sized crowd when we arrived and the amount of merch they bring with them.  This doesn’t usually happen for an evening with three bands on the slate.   We arrived in time to catch a few songs by Deap Valley (not misspelled), two female rockers and the true opener.  I quickly understood that the volume level would be high and that the lyrics would be unintelligible, even standing behind the mixing booth.

We moved closer to the speakers in time for DFA, which turns out to be two guys, one playing bass like it’s a guitar, and a drummer/singer.  Loud, hard, aggressive – self-described as a dance-punk duo – my son informs me that there may be a mosh pit.  There wasn’t, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t see or hear much of the dancing variety, but the band had the punk vibe down.  I was entertained to a degree, but those who enjoyed it most knew the words before they arrived.   Giving selected songs a listen in arears, I like their recorded work better, and I’d probably like some of their songs live in a better venue.  It was an 11 song set, of which two managed to resonate a little, “Black History Month” and “Trainwreck 1979.”  Why?  Because they had some semblance of a tune, as opposed to just a riff.

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So, with a warmup band and two headlines, the expectation is for a 4.5 hour bout of standing (no seats in this venue).  After moving to the middle and finding ourselves standing behind giants, my son was agreeable to a reasonable wall space where we could lean for the duration.  Ah, a wall to lean on – shifting feet, bending… good things.  BRMC finally came on and rocked the night away, especially compared with their 2013 show, with only 8 songs overlapping.  Regrettably, they didn’t choose to play “American X” this night, though they have a couple times on this tour.

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Of course, I came to see BRMC, so it’s no surprise that I could fathom some of the words, particularly the choruses due to the repetition.  It’s unfortunate that such a revered venue sucked this night on their overall sound.  They only have about three weeks left to get it right as they’re moving to Underground Atlanta due to real estate pressures on the current property.  In a way, this is unfortunate, because the Masquerade has a very unique atmosphere, with three different floors and an aged building that looks aged.

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The band played two new songs, “Bandung Hum” (“This is the fast one”) and “Haunt” which I favored by quite a bit.  I’ll have to wait for the next album to hear what they’re actually about… 

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Overall, it was a good outing – exposure to a different band that I otherwise would not have heard, and confirmation that BRMC belongs in my music collection when the mood strikes.  Maybe next time they’ll play at Variety Playhouse, or perhaps Masquerade will hire professionals for outfitting their new venue. Oh, and 10 points off for not playing an encore.

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Set lists:

Death from Above 1979 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Always On Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
Right On, Frankenstein Rival
Virgins Ain’t No Easy Way
Cheap Talk Shuffle Your Feet
Black History Month Hate the Taste
Trainwreck 1979 Berlin
Little Girl Bandung Hum
White is Red Haunt
Romantic Rights 666 Conducer
Government Trash Conscience Killer
The Physical World Awake
  Red Eyes and Tears
  Six Barrel Shotgun
  Spread Your Love
  Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll

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