Friday, October 15, 2010

Gig Guide 6: Porcupine Tree at The Royal Albert Hall; October 14, 2010

I've been to a few gigs (not as many as my best friend Roger, but still well into the 70s) and I can honestly say that some of them will be hours that I will never get back. While not quite a bad gig, when I saw Porcupine Tree in Wolverhampton last December, I was a little less than enamoured; basically I'd missed this band playing live when they produced music that I loved and now they'd ventured into the territory of heavy metal I figured I'd never really get the chance to see the band performing classics from The Sky Moves Sideways, Signify or anything earlier...

But first... The Royal Albert Hall - every gig should be played there! It is quite possibly the most stunning live music venue in existence. Everything about it is... plush. Even the centrally heated toilets with their wood panelling and actual flushable toilets. The place is everything you've ever read or heard about and above all else, acoustically it is the dog's bollocks.

This gig was Porcupine Tree's final date in a world tour that had lasted 13 months taken them all over the world (to countries where their music is far more appreciated than in the UK) and culminated in what can only be regarded as the pinnacle of any band's life; to play at the mother of all venues.

We were positioned in the circle, about two-thirds of the way up and directly in front of the stage; far enough away to only work out that Steven Wilson was in his trademark bare feet, but at an optimum stereo effect distance. It was like we'd been granted the best seats in the house and the band proceeded to produce a show that immediately catapulted itself into one of the 3 best gigs I've ever been to.

Three hours! Yes, three hours of some of the most beautifully produced rock (and prog) music I've ever witnessed. The first part was a semi-acoustic set lasting about 40 minutes; this included 'unplugged' versions of some of their classic songs and in some cases tracks that you would never have imagined being done in that style. The five band members (having John Westley with them) stood at the front of their stage - Westley playing an electric acoustic, Steven Wilson with a plain old acoustic, Richard Barbieri playing a piano, Gavin Harrison on a stripped down drum kit and Colin Edwin on a massive double bass. It was cute, poignant and quite stunning. They then went off for a five minute break before coming back on for part 2.

This was a mix of new and old stuff; Westley departing whenever they played anything pre-1999 and this had a number of highlights including a great version of Even Less and an even better version of the classic The Sky Moves Sideways. After a ten minute interval the band returned for the final segment of the show and this was spellbinding; a mixture of stuff from The Incident mixed with classics; the highlights being a brilliant version of Time Flies and the resurrection of Up The Downstair. The crowd really erupted during this and I found myself quite disgusted when some of their 'fans' left during the older stuff - these people wouldn't know wonderful real music if it bit them on the collective arses.

Encores have become a bit passe; it's expected now so many people don't bother clapping and cheering; not last night. The 3800 fans raised the roof and the band came back out to play two stunning encores - the first being Arriving Somewhere (but not here) from Deadwing and the truly wonderful Trains. The total gig took just over 3 hours of which they played for 95% of it, yet still only managed 24 tracks. Even a couple of the tracks from Fear of a Blank Planet hit the right spot.

I would have been even happier had they played Half Light, Halo, Waiting, Dark Matter, Signify, Stop Swimming, Mellotron Scratch, and Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape, but beggars can't be choosers. It was a quite brilliant show and it will take a lot of beating.
  1. First Set (Semi-Acoustic "Opening Act" Set)
  2. Second Set
  3. Even Less (Full version)
  4. Third Set
  5. Anesthetize (only Second Part: The Pills I'm Taking)
  6. Encore:
If I had to rate this I'd probably give it 9½ out of 10. it was that good.

(For a companion piece to this see the entry called WOW!)

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