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A Porcupine Tree Grows in Hollywood

May 14, 2007

Last night, I had the pleasure of taking in my second concert with English rock band, Porcupine Tree. This tour supports the new release Fear of a Blank Planet, yet another solid release in the band’s fairly short history but long discography.Porcupine Tree

Going to these shows must be what it must have been what it felt like to see Pink Floyd in their early days. Although Porcupine Tree’s hosting venues are getting larger and their audiences along with it, there is still an opportunity to experience the music in an intimate atmosphere.

I have often described PT by saying “Imagine that a Waters/Gilmour-era Pink Floyd were forming today and a young and rising band, and you’ll begin to have a sense of their music.” Porcupine Tree’s music is epic and lush, often with hard metal edges but never saddled with the tropes that gets most Progressive Rock laughed at by those outside Prog’s fandom. You’ll see the Marillion shirts, you’ll overhear the conversations about Robert Fripp and Dream Theater, but Porcupine Tree’s music is more fashionable to Prog’s fans than being a product of the sub-genre.

Porcupine Tree, Live @ The Avalon Hollywood 5/12/07

The show was a performance of the new album in it’s entirety, and featured interspersed cuts from previous albums Deadwing, In Absentia, Signify and Stupid Dream. Opening the show with the Fear of A Blank Planet title cut meant audiences were treated to the accompanying film directed by Lasse Hoile, frequent PT collaborator. The film introduces the concepts at the heart of the album, youth culture, consumerism and alienation via media, prescription drugs, society and violence.

During the performance of the album’s second cut, My Ashes, and it’s companion film is when the homages to the Floyd were most obvious. A circular image projected against a blue sky, the images slowly rolling out, as if Us and Them were actually the cut being played. Porcupine Tree and their music will certainly please longtime Floyd fans, but will never leave them with that unpleasant taste that is left by bands who choose to copy any band’s sound.

One of the band’s most triumphant moments was when it rolled out the tune formerly reffered to as “The Beast”. PT’s fans now know the 17+ minute cut as Anesthetize, an awesome piece which demonstrated the ultra-tightness of the band. The song and stage presentation provided an opportunity to focus on the accompanying film which was highly reminiscent of Koyaanisqatsi. But once again, this showed off the band’s powerful presence as musicians, their ability to take a backseat as performers and deliver music which supported and elevated the visual medium.

It’s true that their were notable and stand-out moments from band leader and founder Steven Wilson, touring band member John Wesley and the band’s most recent addition (going back a couple of albums) Gavin Harrison, but the band stands out the most as a united front. As a band, they’re more like a great orchestra, you probably won’t go wild for the third bassoon’s solo, but their power as a whole will constantly amaze you.

Steven Wilson is not an exciting frontman for his showmanship or sense of bombast, but rather in the way that his signature sound on vocals and lead guitar always sound at least as good as they do on the album. Powerful, solid and leaving you hungry for more. Wilson is a studio performer whose abilities as a musician make him worth watching live. He also deserves significant lauds for being the band’s visionary force. Richard Barbieri, former member of the legendary 80’s glam band Japan weaves the deep and rich sonic tapestry that gives the band it’s full sound. Barbieri’s contribution are often what push the band to it’s epic level.

Colin Edwin, the pork-pie-hat-sporting bass player is by far the band’s most unassuming member. He makes John McVie look flamboyant, and yet once again Edwin’s strength of technique and solidness of timing make him damn near irreplaceable. Listen carefully with a perspective for the bass and you’ll hear subtle nuance that is so often missing from most bands today.

The new album and in particular my favorite cut, Way Out of Here gave an opportunity for drummer Gavin Harrison to shine. His skills (and given time) warrant being acknowledged among rarified drummers such as John Bonham, Bill Bruford, Jeff Porcaro and Vinnie Colaiuta. He goes from solid and unfailing timekeeper to vibrant percussionist with an extraordinary ability for complex and consecutive change-ups.

Finally, touring member of the band, John Wesley proves a suitable sideman to Wilson’s lead guitar, but unfortunately for me, his voice was often the weakest part of the show for me. His sense of harmony occasionally struggled to be “there”, and when he provided the higher register lead, I often wished it was Wilson’s voice instead. Now after listening to “Fear. . .” post-concert, I realize that Wesley’s voice is indeed present on the album, but clearly helped out in-studio.

Thankfully, there were no moments like in the performance Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here (from the DVD of the same name) where Wesley’s voice not only failed to support the band, but actually took it down a notch.

Truly, if I were to come up with a list of the night’s disappointments, it would be a list of the songs that weren’t played. And considering how little you will still pay to get into a Porcupine Tree show, you would be crazy not to give yourself the experience of taking in one of the band’s shows. There are going to be some big name acts touring this concert season who will get hundreds of dollars per ticket that won’t give you the show that this band will.

Hell, I’ll be so ballsy to say it. . . A band like the re-formed Genesis I have no doubt will put on a heck of a show, especially if they choose their material wisely. But Porcupine Tree has no songs like “I Can’t Dance” and “Illegal Alien” and no reason to choose self-parody in an effort for re-legitimization.

Music lovers: do yourself the same favor that a growing number of audiences have been doing for a while now: Go treat yourself to a night of real music performed by real musicians. Miss the opportunity on this tour, and you probably have a second opportunity in the fall, but see them before the venues become as big as their sound!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2007 11:32 am

    PT is my favourite band. I saw them play in London a couple of weeks ago, and it was INTENSE. I’m also going to see them here in Boston next week. Can’t wait. I get to see a lot of shows for a living, and, you are right – it IS a treat to see real musicians perform=:)

  2. May 14, 2007 5:41 pm

    Well, you certainly know what you are in for, so I’ll just say have fun next week!

    Also, keep your eye on this spot as I should be posting a review of Fear of A Blank Planet very soon!



  3. Pablo permalink
    May 15, 2007 5:43 am

    Went to this concert… It was easily the best concert I’ve been to in my life (and my first PT concert). I’m so glad I decided to check their music out a couple of months ago, they’ve quickly become my favorite band 🙂

  4. May 15, 2007 6:04 am

    Certainly you are at the beginning of a fun process of discovering Pork Tree’s music! Among my favorites of the lesser known albums are “Voyage 34” and “Staircase Infinities” (the companion to Up the Downstair). . .

    Have fun, and thanks for stopping by!


  5. Mark permalink
    May 18, 2007 10:44 am

    The May 9th Portland show was my first opportunity to see PT. I concur with much of this review. The musicianship of individual members is admirable, and the greater “gestalt” of their collective is intense and metronome right-on.
    I happen to like and enjoy Wesley’s harmonic voice that seems to resonate nicely with Wilson’s. I also enjoy and appreciate Wilson’s fronting. His presence is solid enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the band’s power without being intimidated, nor upstaging in the least.
    The ‘vibe’ of this band at this show had that wonderful rock & roll quality of morphing into a bold collective energy.

  6. May 18, 2007 4:22 pm

    Thanks for your response, Mark.

    Definitely respect your POV. . . My problem with Wesley is he had problems harmonizing at the show that I went to. In this case Wesley just didn’t support his voice enough and often slid into the notes when he hit them. I don’t know whether you looked at the “Arriving. . .” cut that I listed, but if you listen to that you’ll notice that Wesley is really having a bad night. Frankly, I am surprised the cut even made it to the DVD.

    Wesley’s vocal quality is not at all bad, in fact I love his voice on “Way Out of Here”, but he definitely strikes me as someone who gets help in the studio.

    Thanks again Mark for saying hi!


  7. Mark permalink
    May 19, 2007 3:35 pm

    Rock on, bro.

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