Steven Wilson – Warwick Arts Centre
by Pete Clemons
The last time Steven Wilson appeared live in Coventry was with his band Porcupine Tree. This was during April 1995 when they played at the General Wolfe pub. Prior to that there only other visit was to the Tic Toc (or Antics, as it had by then known) in December 1993. The Antics gig, came just a week after Porcupine Tree’s highly impressive debut, at the Nags Head, High Wycombe.
And my how things have changed over the intervening 20 odd years. Porcupine Tree has been on hiatus for several years now. Yet despite that Steven has just gone from strength to strength.
Today he is more than capable of selling out venues like the Royal Albert Hall as were the Porcupine Tree on their final tour. But, believe me when I say, that it has not always been like that. To get to this position was far from an overnight success story. This has been the accumulation of 30 years of incredibly hard graft and self-sacrifice.
Tonight, Steven is showcasing his critically acclaimed 5th album release, ‘To the Bone’, at the Warwick Arts Centre, but that album does not wholly dominate. And he is received by a good cross section of people. It was heartening to see a lot of relative youngsters in the house.
A brief introduction of 1920/30s music accompanied by a film that kind of played mind games with you, opens up the proceedings. This in itself is quite thought provoking and designed to tap into the senses and to ‘gauge reaction’.
Enter the band that appear to be relaxed, confident and yet determined as, seamlessly, they slip into ‘Nowhere Now’ followed by the haunting yet beautiful ‘Pariah’. These first few songs were combined with some impressive use of technology. We are then reminded as to how good Steven’s last album, Hand.Cannot.Erase. really is.
Throughout the two sets and getting on for three hours on stage the extensive Porcupine Tree back catalogue is not forgotten. Tracks like ‘Arriving Somewhere but not Here’ and ‘Sleep Together’ create a wall of the most glorious sound you will ever hear.
Steven came across, to me at least, that he was in a good place right now. But he is still prone to reacting to what people think about his music. Permanating, for example, was preceded by a lesson in pop music. Now I find Steven to be very articulate and very interesting to hear and read. And it was actually a very informative chat about pop music and what the magic of it all means to him.
Despite that, however, I have never been convinced that the live stage is the right place to do it. Apart from the odd voiced ‘get on with it’ I do think that folk accept, nowadays, that Steven will not sit on his laurels, he will challenge himself as well as his audience. And that he genuinely enjoys exploring every aspect and corner of the music world regardless of the results. And if people don’t get that by now then they never will. Steven, in my opinion, does not need to explain himself.
Throughout the gig, and by stealth, Steven paces around the stage appearing, at times, to support and encourage the various musicians to go beyond where they have been before. Without doubt, whatever band Steven puts together, and you need to be at the top of your game to be considered in the first place, he just seems to motivate them to go the extra mile. Some of their soloing is just exquisite and from the musician’s point of view, it must be equally satisfying to be able to be able to perform at such a high standard.
It certainly paid dividends from where I was sat as this really is was an aural experience that the Butterworth Hall, I am guessing, has rarely hosted. It was an extraordinary gig that, at times, left you breathless.