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PORCUPINE TREE No-Man,Adom, Astoria,London
30 November 2003
This gig was the last of the second European leg of the tour which
Porcupine Tree have been playing in support of their 'In Absentia'
album and the culmination of 18 months of regular gigging in the USA
and Europe. Despite the low-key advertising, the Astoria was
comfortably full and a good proportion of the audience was proudly
wearing an 'In Absentia tour' T-shirt in one of many forms.
For this gig, there were two support acts. First up was a duo of Tim
Bowness/Pete Chilvers who were playing a set predominantly of No-man
material, one of the many side-projects with which Porcupine Tree
main man Steven Wilson has had some involvement. Not being a great
fan of this project's work, nor that of the following band Adom (a UK
based American band whose album was produced by Richard Barbieri and
who supported PT back in March) so I took refuge in the Keith Moon
Bar. In fact the volume for Adom's set was so loud, that I could hear
most of the short set without difficulty.
Eventually I went downstairs and found a decent position from which
to watch the headliners. The lights went out and the set began with a
video projection on the screen at the back of the stage. It certainly
wasn't a song that I knew and I presumed that it must be a new single
for the band. Eventually the five musicians arrived on stage (the
four members of Porcupine Tree have been supplemented throughout this
tour by ex-Fish axeman John Wesley) and opened up with a crunchingly
heavy 'Wedding Nails' - an instrumental track from 'In Absentia'.
Quite a few of the 'In Absentia' songs have been modified over the
course of this touring cycle and though it is nice to have the second
guitar and John Wesley's excellent backing vocals some of the new
arrangements just didn't sound 'right' to me on this
occasion. 'Gravity Eyelids' got a heavier treatment, as did the
beautiful 'She's Moved On' from 'Lightbulb Sun'. The change in
emphasis towards a heavier sound was accompanied with the video
projection of sometimes quite disturbing images which added up to a
much darker feel to the band's music compared with the much lighter
feel of 'Lightbulb Sun' tour a few years ago.
Most of the material was culled from the band's 3 most recent studio
albums - 'In Absentia', 'Lightbulb Sun' and 'Stupid Dream', but with
Steven Wilson explaining to the crowd that it was almost 10 years to
the day, since the band had played The Borderline club, just a little
further down Charing Cross Road, there were one or two extracts from
the band's large back catalogue. 'The Moon Touches Your Shoulder'
from 1995's 'The Sky Moves Sideways' and 'Fadeaway', which was sung
by John Wesley, must have pleased some of the older fans. All the
same Steven also called for understanding from the audience of the
band's need to move forward and explained that the band "can't keep
playing Radioactive Toy for the next 10 years".
Just before the final number, Steven took the opportunity to thank
the tour crew and management. He also expressed his satisfaction at
the size of the crowd, noticing in particular that most of those
present will have only heard about the band only through word of
mouth. A heavy 'Strip The Soul' brought the set to a close before
the band said their goodbyes and left the stage.
Loud cheers from the crowd brought them back on two occasions for a total of three further
songs, of which 'Even Less', was for me the highlight of the almost 2
hour long set. As with the instrumentally sparse 'Feel so Low' and to
some extent 'Russia on Ice' it was a song that was not vastly changed
from its recorded version. The crowd seemed to have loved everything
that the band played, but personally it was one of those gigs that
didn't quite work for me. Porcupine Tree have a reputation for
innovating and 'progressing' in a real sense with their music, but
there are some nights when I just want to hear the recorded versions
of songs reproduced on stage. This was one of them.
Setlist: Wedding Nails / Sound Of Muzak / Gravity Eyelids / She's
Moved On / Hate Song / Fadeaway (Up The Downstair, May 93) / The
Creator had a Master Tape / The Moon Touches Your Shoulder (The Sky
Moves Sideways, Feb 95) / Russia On Ice / Futile (new song from the
US 'Futile' promo EP) / Feel So Low / Strip The Soul
Encores: Even Less / Trains / Blackest Eyes
Review: Charlie Farrell