Whether sitting or standing, Steven’s sounds exceed expectations

Steven Wilson ****** (6 stars out of 6); March 19 at Store Vega

On Tuesday night, Steven Wilson delivered a seamless performance of experimental progressive rock to a mesmerised seated audience. As the founder of the late 80s band Porcupine Tree, Wilson is a seasoned performer and a perfectionist at large.

Initially, much of the audience was clearly sceptical regarding whether a seated concert really fits rock music of Wilson’s calibre. But despite small urges and twitches to stand up, experiencing his music in a seated manner only enriched it. With an extended speaker system and a few elite musicians, the sound was rich, deep and dynamic, treating the audience to well over two hours of Wilson's highly orchestrated compositions. The crowd fell in love.

Vega reminded ticketholders to turn up early in order to catch a preliminary 30-minute film preceding the concert. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see that this film was merely a moving visual of a large moon that morphed itself into different shades and faces. Obviously a reference to Wilson's newly released album, The Raven That Refused to Sing, the music intensified, culminating with the band’s eventual appearance on stage. Now it was time for the real deal.

Wilson opened with ‘Luminol’, a funky and bass-driven composition showcasing some virtuoso skill by bassist and backup vocalist Nick Beggs. Following ‘Luminol’, Wilson introduced himself to the crowd. In a cool, self-assured manner, he spoke to the audience, who were hypnotised into silence during the show. I have never witnessed Store Vega so quiet: one could hear the heavy footsteps of the security guard. After promising to deliver his latest album in its entirety plus a couple of earlier masterpieces, Wilson proceeded with the crowd-pleaser ‘Drive Home’, a beautiful song that culminated in a impressive guitar solo from Guthrie Govan. Wilson has an astounding ability to combine moments of minimalist silence with dramatic rock music with unusual time-signatures, and this experimental edge makes his music more like movements, rather than songs. After a solid performance of the hard-hitting ‘The Holy Drinker’, Wilson performed the night’s shortest contribution, in the form of ‘The Pin Drop’, a melodious pop song (according to Wilson, at least).

Introducing ‘The Watchmaker’, a transparent white curtain fell in front of the stage, offering a nightmarish and arguably creepy prelude to the song. ‘The Watchmaker’ was one of the highlights of the evening, a prime example of Wilson’s ability to tell stories through lyrics and instrumentation. Culminating the first set was the record’s the title track, ‘The Raven that Refused to Sing’. Preceded by the evening’s longest song, ‘Raider 2’, I lost track of how long this song ran – a sign of a great composition. As Wilson was applauded back for an encore, old-timers were treated to ‘Radioactive Toy’, a classic from Porcupine Tree.

Wilson is severely confident in his music, and with good reason. The audience was also treated to an array of instruments, including clarinet, saxophone, mellotron, Chapman Stick, and flute, all of them played brilliantly. This performance was one to remember.

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