Live Review: Steven Wilson, Bridgewater Hall Manchester, 31st March 2018

sw2-01Having been a Porcupine Tree fan for many years, and with the band playing a key part in my musical development as it were, a trip to see the main man himself Steven Wilson was long overdue. With his new solo record To The Bone offering some of his most well constructed songs to date (and with the size of his back catalogue that’s saying something) now seemed like the perfect time. I had not been this excited about a gig in a long time, and knowing his reputation for his spectacular live performances over the years, I was eager to see one of my idols in action. 

With such a vast collection of songs to draw from, there was no time for an opening act, instead Steven quickly launched into a colossal three hour set heavy with tracks from his new record. It didn’t take long for the show to become an all around feast for the senses. ‘Pariah’ for instance, originally sung as a duet with Ninet Tayeb, featured a giant 3D hologram of her singing in her stead. Within just the first couple of songs I had experienced an astounding display unlike anything I’d ever seen. Holograms made several other appearances throughout the night, featuring hypnotic dancers and vibrant bursts of colour. Even in their absence though, the visuals were still on another level. The finest example was easily the animation accompanying the sinister snarl of ‘People Who Eat Darkness’, my highlight of the new record. The video of a paranoid and deluded hermit seeing his neighbours slowly morph into black-hearted creatures from some Lovecraftian horror was equally disturbing and captivating.

Of course, the music itself is even more important, but unsurprisingly the level of musicianship at work was simply dazzling. You could feel the drums deep in your gut even at the very back of the crowd, and on tracks like ‘Refuge’ Alex Hutchings’ guitar work rivalled even the great David Gilmour. A lot of the first half of the set consisted of material from Steven’s previous record Hand. Cannot. Erase., of which I’m in the minority in thinking it’s not one of his best releases, but it just goes to show the kind of calibre of live performance at work when you find yourself revelling even in the songs you don’t like.

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After a brief interlude the second set started in phenomenal form with Porcupine Tree’s magnum opus ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’. The crowd erupted in the biggest cheer of the night when the opening guitar section started, and from then on I was bewitched in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever been before at a gig. I was determined to absorb every last second of it, as it was a track that I thought I would never get the chance to hear live.

The night wasn’t all drama, darkness and spectacle however, as Steven had a fair bit of fun with the crowd. Earlier in the night he had spoken about his new guitar and how he was still searching for a name and was open to suggestions. I had taken it as a joke, but after the tour de force of Arriving Somewhere he immediately began reeling them off, eventually settling on Ermintrude… at least for one night anyway.

With a plentiful set ranging from the kaleidoscopic pop of ‘Permanating’, to the brutal riffs of ‘Sleep Together’, to the mesmerising melancholy of ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’, no one can deny that Steven puts on one hell of a show. Not since my first ever gig have I experienced such grandeur and technical splendour. Before the show started it was pretty clear from all the conversations I overheard that half the audience had been following him on tour and had seen the show several times, and by the end it was easy to understand why.

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