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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