A chance discovery of ‘Stupid Dream’ on a listening post in Virgin got me back into Porcupine Tree. I had lost interest a bit, after seeing them at a blustery festival with crap sound, a couple of years ago, and I had no idea they even had a new record out. Anyway, this album marked a brilliant new direction for them, much more guitar oriented, poppy melodies as opposed to 20 minute Floydian epics about LSD.
Steven Wilson and his cohorts wandered on to the stage at the Bloomsbury Theatre, an upmarket all seated venue holding a thousand at the very most, for a gig billed as ‘A Night With…’ They opened with ‘Even Less’ from the new album, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had probably been somewhat hasty in my previous dismissal of their live prowess. With Richard Barbieri (ex Japan) on keyboards, and two very capable session guys on bass and drums, they produced a remarkably full sound, rich and lush. The awesome acoustics in the Bloomsbury Theatre and the incredible precision of the band combined to produce the perfect sound.
Steven Wilson is up there with Dave Gilmour and Alex Lifeson in my book, effortless and so incredibly precise, but more importantly, knowing which notes not to play. He’s also a great live singer, and only really let himself down by wearing shades in the dark. The set was a great mix of old and new, with a good half dozen from ‘Stupid Dream’ (highpoint, the solo at the end of ‘A Smart Kid’), a sublime solo acoustic ‘Nine Cats’, and culminating in a blissful version of the anthemic ‘Radioactive Toy’. The album version is good, but the production on ‘On The Sunday Of Life…’ was a little on the ‘thin’ side. Live, they really beefed it up, Barbieri’s keyboards in particular breathing so much extra into it. Unfortunately it would be the only time I ever heard it live, as shortly thereafter, Wilson somewhat annoyingly decided it had become a millstone round his neck, and flatly refused to play it any more. Bloody prima donna rock stars.