Steven Wilson – Bristol Colston Hall 26 January 2016
A virtually sold out stalls only gig at the lovely Colston Hall witnessed possibly the most technically brilliant gig of 2016 (already, yes, I know). Steven Wilson and his magical band of musicians arrived with their musical mojo well honed after ten dates in Germany and with the latest release, the “interim” 4 1/2 threatening to breach the UK top ten.
We've reviewed the latest release and 2015’s stunning Hand. Cannot. Erase was one of the highlights of last year. The band arrived onstage with Wilson’s usual eye for detail in evidence. Who else could engage a theatre full of mainly middle aged men with a visual that consisted of lighting changing in a tower block? Not only that but fully grasp the audience's attention. A low key entrance, initially by long serving in keyboardist Adam Holzman who began the chords for the opening track First Regret and then by the rest of the band began the first set; the indulgence of the whole of Hand. Cannot. Erase. Thanking the audience for attending, Wilson observed that on every night of the tour he was having to comment on the seating arrangements and lamented the potential absence of energy for the band to fed off. Unfortunately, with a band of such quality, the trade off between a venue with standing and one with decent acoustics which supports such complex and intricate music is often at odds. A word with your promoters might be in order?
With that off his chest, This talented quintet delivered an absolute masterclass with the rest of the album, which included the arrival of Israeli vocalist Ninet Tayeb, who provided the haunting vocals for the depressing Routine, complete with video playing on the huge screen behind. Indeed, the screen was used to great effect all the way until the final song of the evening where it couldn't cope and froze. Tayeb was superb, her voice uplifting and powerful and it was a joy to experience her live performance in such illustrious company. Other highlights of the first set? The multitalented Nick Beggs moving from bass to eight string Chapman Stick to guitars to synth was just brilliant whilst new drummer Craig Blundell and the amazing Dave Kilminster on guitar slotted in perfectly. Their playing was sublime. Tayeb returned for a duet on Ancestral which captivated the audience and whilst I appreciated Wilson’s sentiments about the response from the audience, it was songs such as this where you really had to sit back and allow the sheer quality on display to be absorbed.
After an intermission which was appreciated by the majority of the audience (these ain't young bladders you know) the second half of the evening began with the real treat of the opening track from Wilson’s 2012 Storm Corrosion collaboration with Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt. Drag Ropes was quite breathtaking, with the sinister and disturbing video playing in the background.
During the evening Wilson had touched on a number of topics, including the demise of the annual release, something which he often touches on when being accused of prolific. He expressed his opinion that the norm of a band releasing an album every year allowed them to experiment with styles without the pressure from management. Now, I'm not convinced that this is fully accurate, but certainly the current style of an album every four years is not something that endears bands to me and I endorse Mr Wilson’s sentiments. He also touched on the death of musical innovation, and in a heartfelt manner paid tribute to David Bowie, citing him as an inspiration to hundreds of musicians. Dedicating Lazarus, one of five Porcupine Tree numbers, to Bowie, Wilson and the band hit just the right note. A rare and powerful Index from Grace For Drowning was preceded by the opening track on 4 ½ My Book Of Regrets, one of three which were played. The others were a blisteringly heavy Vermillioncore which followed more haunting vocals from Tayeb during Don’t Hate Me. I make no excuse for my repetition about the quality of the musicianship on display. Kilminster is an incredible guitarist who was equally at home fiercely shredding or adding subtle notes to enhance the depth of a song. Beggs meanwhile is just astonishing, adding enough grunt and rumble with his bass playing whilst his backing vocals really supported each track merging with Wilson's sublimely.
After a lengthy and fully deserved standing ovation, the audience was encouraged to remain standing for a further Bowie homage, a lovely Space Oddity before The Sound of Muzak and the harrowing yet enchanting The Raven That Refused To Sing concluded the evening to wild applause. If there is a better way to spend £22.50 then please do tell me, because I don't believe that it exists. 10/10