Live Reviews

Published on April 11th, 2018 | by Mike Ainscoe

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Steven Wilson: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester – the ‘To The Bone’ tour

STEVEN WILSON

The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

31st March / 1st April 2018

Of course anyone who’s a regular listener to the Bandwagon will appreciate the fact that we (that’s the royal ‘we’) tend to use any opportunity at all to slip in some music by Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree. We must have done a good job of playing much if not most if not all of his most recent solo works over the past few years so the  chance to witness  two nights of Mr Wilson was too difficult to resist especially with the prospect of two different setlists to reward the sort of devoted fans who attend both nights, if not multiple nights of a tour that finished in town after three nights at the Royal Albert Hall. And there are those of course who will press us to say which night was the best.

So all set for the first night and set ‘a’, safely ensconced in the front row of the circle and afforded a wonderful uninterrupted view there was only  the minor inconvenience of losing the way back to the seat after the break and almost missing the gentle intro to the rather apt ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’ that sifted through gently picked guitar and sheer brutality.

Earlier on, ‘Nowhere Now’ had provided the evening’s slightly understated opening to the set although a truly monumental ‘Home Invasion’ third song in had totally justified the ticket price and the scramble months earlier to secure the best possible spot. The thundering funk and Adam Holzman’s wheeling and winding synth solo topped off with some guitar heroics, had it all. In contrast, the bizarre highlight for many,  where he takes his life into his own hands with the Prog crowd,  is ‘Permanating’  where he turns the Bridgewater Hall into a colourful seventies disco, just for three and a half minutes naturally.

Encoring by walking on armed with just  guitar and mini amp  – a valve one at that that needed some warm up time – and rocking out a solo version of ‘Even Less’ before what he always refers to as a singalong song in ‘Sound Of Musak’ despite its message about the loss of value of the art of music, the tried and trusted ‘Raven That Refused To Sing’ brought the evening to a melancholy yet glorius close.

Set ‘b’ on the second night was enhanced by the presence of former Porcupine Tree colleague, Richard Barbieri, playing a half hour support dolt. Conjuring up all manner of atmospheres around pulses and  throbs that threatened to dislodge the fillings, he not only indulged the Japan fans with a version of ‘Ghosts’ but also partnered up with Wilson on ‘Buying New Soul’ to make the second night an almost must for the more intense fans.

Otherwise, a shift to the alternative (and possibly better) set opening of ‘To The Bone’ and its blinding flashes of white light. Again, ‘Home Invasion’  a contender for the highlight of the set although a lengthy run of music from ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ that fills the first half runs it close, especially the lengthy and welcome run through ‘Routine’ and some of the shorter and more immediate numbers from the album that gave an indication of his future direction.

Once again, as he has all tour, Wilson was like a proud father, showing off and playing the latest addition to the family with his vintage Fender Telecaster. An instrument that’s played as much a part as anything in helping evolve his sound. Particularly the case in opening the second set with ‘People Who Eat Darkness’ which is positively punky in the raw chording and snarled vocals although the impressively dark footage  created for  this number are one of the standout visuals of the set.

Set closer ‘Sleep Together’ has been and will continue to be a sweeping tour de force. Wilson’s ‘Kashmir’ it’s a left over from the PT days that he constantly turns to as a climax. Repeat offenders would have enjoyed the subbing of ‘Don’t Hate Me’ for ‘Arriving Somewhere…’ but the telling blow of the absence of ‘Lazarus’ and the final expected encore of ‘Raven…’ might have been tempered by an encore that eclipsed  the previously night’s stripped back affair, with just Wilson and Holzman duetting on the stunning pair of  ‘Postcard’ and ‘Blackfield’ whilst ‘Song Of Unborn’ which has been appearing towards the end of the tour with perhaps the best visuals of the set, could well topple ‘Raven…’ as an alternative closing song.

The best night? You had to be there for both although if you went to just the one, then you couldn’t have possibly come away dissatisfied, although if you saw the setlist from the night you missed, then you might fell a few stabs from the sword of what might have been. However, as a musical extravaganza, so many boxes are ticked from the outstanding musicianship to the audio visual production that the question of how to follow this should provide some interesting answers.

~

Words and live photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive and his website is www.michaelainscoephotography.co.uk

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About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.



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