Steven Wilson – The Royal Albert Hall

Venue : The Royal Albert Hall, London
Date : 20 October 2013

Things could have got off to a better start as I got soaked in the pouring rain carrying Debbie’s bassoon to her gig in Waterloo, but it was good to then meet up with Bob Hodds, Vitamin P, Susie and Rob Moss, and Robert Ramsay (of Shineback and Tinyfish fame) at the Porterhouse Irish Pub in Covent Garden.  After a while Robert and I moved on to The Queen’s Arms to meet up with Sarah Worsley, Chris Tippell and Andy Hall, and were soon joined by Tim Hall and Chris McGarel, and I spotted Greg Spawton (of Big Big Train fame), then saw Anne Corris (who was all the way over from Australia) leaving the pub, and also managed to have a chat with Alison McAuliffe and Jeff Clark.  It was all very social as I passed Steve Cleaton flyering for The Fierce And The Dead, and then Steve Hackett outside the Royal Albert Hall, and Geoff Banks inside it, and then found James Hendry (of GiggingForever fame) coming over to me once I got to my seat, just before Carla Santana appeared at the top of the entrance stairs all the way from Portugal, as well as receiving messages from Keith Waye and Neil and Bridget Palfreyman telling me which boxes they were in.  I also met Jane Armstrong on the way out.  It was all just one big party really !  Anyway, there was a gig and I should tell you about it…

As the lights go down we are greated with an intro video for Luminol which includes some spoken parts and the picture fuzzing in and out.  Sadly I have got a speaker stack this side of the stage and it blocks some of the screen from my position in the arena seats.  There is a drone soundtrack running underneath it all and the main scene is a brick wall along a lane.  A busker comes along and stands in front of the wall, warms himself with a drink and rolls himself a cigarette.  There is a strange effect added to the smoke coming from the busker’s rollup.  The busker finally gets out his acoustic guitar and it has become clear that he is Steven Wilson.  And as the busker starts to play, Steven Wilson comes on to play an acoustic version of the Porcupine Tree song Trains by himself.

Two Steven Wilsons play Trains

Two Steven Wilsons play Trains

It must be said that this raises a huge cheer from the audience.  The rest of the band come on before the end of Trains and as that finishes they immediately thump into a racing Luminol as Theo Travis’ flute sound swirls through and takes it into the Yes-sounding vocal part.  There is some lovely rumbling bass from Nick Beggs as the crowd clap along.  Lots of keyboards from Adam Holzman mix with Theo’s saxophone as they jazz it up with a lively beat and then it settles and fades into a more melodic, drifting sound with Steven on guitar.

In full flow...

In full flow…

A piano part trickles through into rising vocal sounds, and it has to be said the sound is perfect in this wonderful venue.  It fades down then blasts out behind Chad Wackerman’s drums with a sharp edge and rises majestic.  The guitar grows from Guthrie Govan and then races away to take it to a sharp finish and well-deserved extended applause.  It has been a stunning demonstration of musicianship which continues through the evening.  “Thank you, and good evening.  The last time I was here seems simultaneously to be like yesterday and a million years ago.  That was with Porcupine Tree and it felt like an end, if not a definitive one, and this a beginning, and to prove that we are going to be playing some new material,” says Steven.

They continue with Postcard and circling melodic piano that Steven sings into.  It grows into a larger sound with an anthemic feel and soars before pausing down then soaring again as it ticks along.  It dies down into piano to close, basic, effective, wonderful.  They continue straight on with The Holy Drinker and a very sharp and piercing guitar sound.  Steven is playing bass and Nick is on his Chapman Stick.

The Chapman Stick...but first some tambourine

The Chapman Stick…but first some tambourine

Some screeching saxophone adds to the guitar sound before it holds for the vocals and then riffs hard in bursts of sound.  As a brilliant counter to the previous track it is nicely complex as it rocks along.  It settles all atmospheric and drifts as Steven sings again, then hard riffing drives it to a big finish.  As part of our musical education, Guthrie gives us the various guitar sounds we will hear tonight, and they get ever more harsh and complicated until Steven declares that he would like Guthrie to use the final one in Drive Home.  “This is what we laughingly refer to as the single from the album – it contains over an hour of content,” he continues, and they ease into Drive Home with the video playing behind them.

Drive Home

Drive Home

Its wonderful melody flows along with a hard edge behind it and moves us into the most sumptuous, rounded guitar solo from Guthrie which just keeps going and is perfect in every way.  I am sure I am not alone in wishing it would never stop, but it has to and it rolls to a close and a huge roar for Guthrie.

“This is the part of the show where we are going to do something new for you.  I am sure there are some of you out there who are recording this show so I would ask please do not upload this one so you do not spoil it for others who are still to see the tour.  It is 15 minutes long.  I don’t do short ones.  Some people have questioned why I am already writing new material, but I am of an age where I can remember that bands brought out an album every year.  When did that change ?  It is not the finished version because there are still solos and vocal parts to go on.  This is called ‘Wreckage’ today,” although according to other setlists it is also called Break It (And You Buy It), and it seems that Steven may well change the name each night.  A siren sound takes us into a tapping and guitar notes are picked against a buzz.  Steven sings in as the sound circles and the flute follows that.  The bass edges in and the sound clears as Steven sings then it has that scratchy background noise again.  It gradually grows both in substance and volume, becoming insistent and his voice cries out with some anguish before the track kicks away.  The guitar slides through and eases away controlled with an edge, rising high before it all dies down to the bass thump and Steven sings until the guitar circles and he then moves from keyboards to guitar.  It breaks open and rocks with a deep sound, feeling around before it crashes away.  It holds again with twinkling keyboards and thumping bass then kicks on with saxophone added in.  It grows and drives into a headlong dash.  There is another pause as sounds swirl around feeling their way again with flute this time and then it crashes on.  It is hard and heavy with a lot mixed into the sound.  Bursts take it on into a mixed crescendo which dies into circling guitar to close it.  They take a 20 minute break as we try to recover from the sensory overload.  I need to hear that again, and soon.

A gauze screen has come down in front of the stage during the interval and the Watchmaker intro video is projected onto it.  The Watchmaker track itself eases along with its melodic gentle flow as they remain behind the screen.

The Watchmaker

The Watchmaker

It kicks and the flute grows.  Then the guitar follows it until it pauses to Steven’s singing and returns to the original feel with a harder edge.  Then Steven is on bass guitar again before it opens up with choir sounds and he now has his guitar and attacks with slashing riffs.  Steven’s voice has an altered sound as he introduces the next track, leading on from the watchmaker who buried his wife under the floorboards…”nice” to “This next guy is even more fucked up” and we have Index with the gauze screen still up.  There is a deep, sinister bass sound against rolls on the snare under the vocals as it edges along tight and minimal, rising and then breaking open and pushing on hard into buzzing riffing.  It calms and returns to the original theme, building on that sound with Nick adding backing vocals while playing his bass part on his Chapman Stick, and I get a great view of that from where I am sitting.  Steven is walking around the stage, waving his hands as though he is playing air guitar as he approaches the others.  The drum fills are tight from Chad, and the whole sound is tight and controlled, full of tension, even the vocals are more direct, as surging keyboards take it higher and the guitar sound comes through sharply.  It is dramatic, thumping rock.  Stripped down and all the more effective for that.  And with a pulsing beat alongside drums rolls it comes to a full stop.  Sectarian begins with still the screen down as Steven strums in on acoustic guitar, although as the track progresses he plays keyboards with the acoustic guitar on his back and as the track breaks open the screen comes down.  This is the instrumental track where the tri-tones come to play and Nick is still on the Chapman Stick as the track breaks open with a discordant sound and then riffs with a thump before the guitar rises out of it and pushes higher.  It is shrieking now with a saxophone sound as it pounds into bursts of hard sound, before it suddenly settles into strumming and fades with the keyboards before deeper, sinister sounds push and it develops into discordant, avant garde keyboards with jazzy drums, and I see that Nick is back on his bass for this part.  There is some really excellent playing from Adam as the song rolls along and it is so easy to get caught up in it all.  It settles before returning to the original theme, and the sound rises again, pushing along as the gauze screen disappears and the crowd cheers, before the track settles to flow to a finish.

It is time for our musical education to continue.  “Who here knows what a mellotron is ?” Steven asks us, before continuing, “It is 50 years old this year.  Where oh where would we be without the mellotron, Robert ?”  And, yes, Mr. Fripp is in tonight.  Adam gives us some examples of the sounds of the mellotron, playing some music from The Beatles and then King Crimson and then the choir sound, for which there is no famous example, but which is used in Harmony Korine.  It sounds like there is added reverb guitar at the beginning tonight, and I am loving this full, rounded sound.  It settles and begins to grow again, the sounds floating before blasting into the chorus and producing a rich, rounded, epic, anthemic sound which soars into pounding riffing.  Nick is slowly twirling around holding his bass high like a rock god, and he definitely appears to be loving it.  The drums are driving and holding it all tight before they release us into thumping bass and screeching guitar as it pounds relentlessly, then breaks open again and soars once more into the chorus, and then more sustained riffing as it bounces along before fading right out, then growing again as it develops the sound, hitting through the chorus once more before edging to a close and huge applause.

Steven tells us that because he lives close to London he drove in for the gig today, and on the way he sang along to his NWOBHM compilation and a song by a band called Fist.  He seemed to remember all the words and sang the first verse, the chorus, the second verse, and the chorus again, and it had lasted for…57 seconds.  As we are more than aware, he cannot do short songs, but now we will be getting an edit of Raider II.  It will still last for15 minutes.  And they edit it so well that it does not lose any of its drama or atmosphere.  It still takes its time to develop before it breaks open and the sounds soar.  A lot of the jazzy sounds have been taken out in this version, leaving it with a more rocky feel, and it really grows as it pushes and drives headlong to a powerful sustained close.  The sound continues on into The Raven That Refused To Sing which echoes along deep with hard, forceful vocals.

With added Theo

With added Theo

Theo is at the piano as it eases along, then returns to flute and the drums break it open and it flows with a full, rounded sound.  They go off and the Adam’s piano closes it out.  The audience call for more, and keep calling for more as they applaud.

They have to come back on and when they do Steven asks if anyone here was at the Royal Festival Hall concert.  “We are going to play the same encore but this time we are going to explore the space.  You can stand up if you want to.”

Radioactive Toy

Radioactive Toy

Radioactive Toy is wonderfully spacey and swirling and extended and they really do use all available space with the sounds they produce, with the audience being urged to sing out the chorus before they take it all down and jam along until the drums tap again and it begins to grow a form around the various sounds and pushes to a triumphant climax to a brilliant set.

Goodnight !

Goodnight !

You can see more of my photographs from the evening here.

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