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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

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