Ever since I learnt that I would be missing out on Porcupine Tree coming to Mood-I in Mumbai in December, I began to feel frustrated with life. Seldom have I let something that has meant so much to me just pass by looking from the sidelines, unable to do anything but wish it wasn’t that way. And very conveniently, Porcupine Tree were giving me a chance to make amends by touring the US within a few months with dirt cheap ticket prices. Without giving a second thought, I booked my tickets for the Charlotte gig. But when I booked my tickets, I never had the slightest idea it would turn out to be so much more than just a Porcupine Tree concert. Through a series of totally unpredictable and unbelievable events, which culminated in an all-is-well-that-ends-well feeling, I found myself on a road trip to Charlotte to see Porcupine Tree on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
Fast forward to concert arena- a PUB by name Amos’ Southend. It must have had a capacity of about 100-150 max. And one of the best living bands on the planet was going to be playing there in an hour! I almost considered that an insult! But I wasnt exactly complaining. But first up, the opening act was BIG ELF. This band, half from Finland and other half from LA (or something like that) has by far the most refreshingly new sound I have come across after I started listening to THE BLACK KEYS. This band should definitely go right at the top of your To-Listen playlist in not so sober conditions. Total psychedelic, progressive rock. I am already a big fan.
Ok, now getting right to the most relevant part. Porcupine Tree took stage at around 9:10 PM. And went straight into Occam’s Razor. Oh and before I go any further, it should perhaps be mentioned that I was approximately 8.385 feet away from Steven Wilson’s microphone, already buzzing with 1 bottle of Budlite + 1 bottle of Corona (with lime obviously), sipping from a glass of Jameson Irish Whiskey (on the rocks) and generally smiling and feeling happy.
So as PTree took stage with Occam’s Razor, the first thing I noticed was how lean Steven Wilson actually was! No kidding. I wonder how he manages to tour all over the world and stay fit and be so lean at the same time! Anyway, apart from Steven Wilson, the rest of the band was there too: Richard Barbieri on two big ass keyboards (and a Mac), Colin Edwin (with a fretless bass), Gavin Harrison on drums and touring guitarist John Wesley with other guitars and backing vocals. But make no mistake. It was Steven Wilson all the way who took centerstage. And with good reason too.
They went on to play Blindhouse after which Steven Wilson started talking to the crowd. He explained how the concert worked in two halves – but I guess every PTree fan there already knew that. Great Expectations, Kneel and Disconnect and Drawing the Line followed along with Steven playing the Mellotron for Kneel and Disconnect. That sound – and his voice- and that haunting tune (along with the Jameson in my hand) began my journey to a different dimension. Incident came after that with those keyboard percussions and that haunting voice again. But of course, everyone were waiting for the band to play Time Flies. I am not sure whats with that strumming pattern, but it can get anybody’s attention within 2 seconds for sure. He played that- and the complete song- all 11 mins of it. It is something to listen to that song full volume on your i-Pod, but it is something else to see Steven Wilson play that live right in front of you. You just tend to shut up and listen without being asked to do so.
They went on to play the rest of THE INCIDENT album winding up with Drive The Hearse (one of my personal favorites). They took a 10 min break after which they started their second part of the setlist- which basically included all their old stuff. They started off from DEADWING and one of my personal favorites- Start of Something Beautiful. It was indeed the start of something beautiful. There is something about that song, (the whole album actually) that one can never get tired listening to. The best part of the song was when the keyboards and the bass come together in perfect harmony and I was not disappointed. My journey to that different dimension was well underway.
Russia on Ice (first part) came up next with that eerie bassline followed by Taking the Pills part of Anesthetize. That was perhaps the heaviest the concert got the entire evening. Anybody having a fantasy of headbanging to PTree should have realized that by then. The whole crowd definitely did get fully pumped up for Anesthetize. That riff is definitely catchy and that other dimension was definitely in sight by then.
Now I have to tell you that before I went to the concert, I had done considerable research about the setlist that they were having for this tour. I had made sure I was not going to be caught off guard during the concert. But all that was thrown out of the window when Steven Wilson announced that the next song: STARS DIE. Fuck! It had been ages since I had listened to that song! That soft guitar intro and Steven’s melodious vocals were totally eclipsed by that mind blowing bass line! And as the song went into the middle part with that mesmerizing acoustic rhythm, followed by that sweet bass, I knew my transition to that different dimension was complete. Anything else they played was only going to be a bonus from then on. I had hoped they would play some of the songs which I was desperate to listen to. But looking back now, I dont think I would have traded this to anything else on their entire catalog.
They went on to play part of Strip the Soul and part of .3. Then came one more song I was really looking forward to: NORMAL. It is really surprising how one band can come up with such arresting melody for almost every single song they ever compose and yet not make them sound the same as something else. Playing heavy riffs followed immediately by a melody backed acoustic part and make the song sound better just because of that is something Porcupine Tree have mastered over the years. Normal is one perfect example- especially when you are listening to it being played LIVE by the very band that made it and when you are listening to it from a different dimension.
They then played Bonnie the Cat (one of the songs I had wished they would play something else instead of) and then went for an encore. It was quite predictable what they would play for encore. Started off with Sound of Muzak. Apart from the part wherein I say how awesome the song is, I would also like to say that I fully believe that if at least half the people on this planet know what the song is about, then the world is going to be a much better place. Porcupine Tree then wound up their show with TRAINS. That intro acoustic riff is sufficient to make me smile any time, any day and anywhere on this planet. So no points for guessing what the expression on my face was when Steven Wilson played that in front of me. I had imagined I would sing along throughout the song, but all I could do was just shut up and listen, joining the chorus only towards the end.
The band then got together on stage and waved at the crowd saying “We will be back” which actually had some meaning as this was their first time in Charlotte. But perhaps the only regret I have of the show was that I couldnt get a single pic of the concert. Photography was strictly banned and the one opportunity I had of taking the pic when the band got together at the end, I let it pass as I was busy clapping and screaming my lungs out. Photograph or no photograph, I was there. And nothing is going to change that!
But perhaps I should say a word or two about the performance as such. I have been to many many concerts. And in almost all of them, what the band plays on stage differs vastly from the original song. In the name of improvisations, many just end up playing a lead which bears no resemblance to the original or singing the song with some of the syllables having a different tune than the original. I believe that it comes more from a lack of effort in most cases rather than the popular perception that it stems from an attempt at improvisations. When somebody improvises, you will know it. In all other cases, it is just a lack of effort. But not Porcupine Tree. If there is one thing that will always seperate a Porcupine Tree concert with all the other dozen or so concerts that I have been to, it will have to be the effort that PTree put into making the concert so very memorable. All their songs had a note-to-note perfection. All the vocals were in the right key and in perfect harmony with the rest of the instruments. The co ordination was impeccable. If there is anything called a complete concert experience, this is it.
Like I have been saying over and over and over, concerts give me the only meaningful purpose to continue my existence. And I know for a fact I will be going to many more Porcupine Tree concerts.
PS: Thank You and due apologies to that someone because of which all of this was possible in the first place. Inconvenience prevents me from elaborating.