Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Prog rock kingpin Steven Wilson gets supernatural on latest solo tour

The only thing that needs to be done to get an idea of how multi-talented Steven Wilson is would be to just listen to a few of his compositions. But a gander at his live shows makes it even more obvious how much of a master he is in every phase of his craft. The British singer, songwriter, progressive rock musician, who is also the former frontman of Porcupine Tree, assembled a true feast for the senses at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse. He presented a feast not only for the ears but also the eyes as he seamlessly weaves together a true multimedia spectacle.

Steven Wilson bids farewell to the crowd, alongside bassist Nick Beggs.

He utilizes video projection in an innovative way to compliment the material being preformed onstage, bearing great similarity to the way Godspeed You! Black Emperor broadcasts video on to the backstage wall to provide a subtle background coloring and ambiance to the performance. The ticking of a clock, a bizarre face projected onto a screen -- it all provides a unsettling sense of tension that complements the spell Wilson is weaving.At times his show conjures the full bombast of swaggering British rock, at other times the band drifts through dark, brooding, visceral soundscapes, and sometimes he delves into meticulously arranged yet fluid and exotic jazz fusion. And of course there is a solid dose of humor and humanity stirred into the mix.

His excellent third solo album, The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories), was played in full. It's a uniquely structured album; each song is a vignette telling a story about a supernatural/occult being or incident. "The Holy Drinker" focuses on a cleric who loses his way, while "The Watchmaker" tells of how the titular character murders his wife. Blistering solos, demonic guitar scales, and gentle acoustic strumming provides a varied musical backdrop, but Wilson also shows he knows how to flow from one song into the next.

Following "The Watchmaker," the stage lights went down and there was a voice that sounded like an ancient dignified earth spirit. It reiterated the watchmaker's murder of his wife, and then proceeded to  announce that the next story was about someone who was "even more fucked up." This segued into "Index," which as he put it, was about a guy who can only relate to humans in the sense of organizing and collecting them. He may be a creep, but he has a hell of a soundtrack. Wilson is complemented by a brooding, electronic ambient backdrop as he weaves the collector's twisted tale. It concludes in a dark, oppressive whirl of overwhelming guitar, synth, and drumwork.

Aside from "Index," quite a few songs from Wilson's previous album, Grace for Drowning made the setlist. Perhaps most impressive was the 26 minute mini-marathon "Raider II," which he prefaced by explaining that he had originally written a Raider I. "It was shit!" he bluntly declared, which inspired him to write "Raider II." The tune itself tended to drag a bit on the Grace for Drowning album, but live it passes in the blink of an eye, and is an obvious easy showoff piece for Steven and the rest of his band.

The crowd goes wild for Wilson, Beggs and drummer Chad Wackerman. 

This brings us to the essential essence of what a Steven Wilson concert is all about. The stories themselves are well thought out and executed, but at the end of the day it's all about the instrumentation and composition. From Wilson's heartfelt performance on the beautiful piano ballad "Insurgentes" to Guthrie Govan's frenetic solos on "Luminol" and "Drive Home," to Chad Wackerman's clattering drum fills on "Index," Steven Wilson and his band know how to create moments that excellent concerts are built out of.

The sound itself was excellent, but one minor gripe was that it sounded like there were pre-recorded bits played through the speakers. During one of the early songs I heard a voice coming out of the speakers that sounded markedly different from Steven's. I thought it was someone singing along, but when I turned around no one was singing, and I could tell the singing was coming out of the speakers. It was very odd, to say in the least.
Related posts:

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing review
Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning review

1 comment:

Cara Mico said...

just listened to the raven that refused to sing. The video is one of the best I've ever seen and is so beautiful and terrible and sad. I love the song. Going to listen to more. Thanks, also just heard Grizzly Bear for the first time really, good suggestion.