Alcohol, America, Arbit, Concerts, The things that happen only to ME...

The Art of Perfection: Porcupine Tree Live @ Charlotte, NC

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.

Alcohol, America, Arbit, Blacksburg, My sense of Humour, NITK, Nonsense, The things that happen only to ME..., Virginia Tech, WTF?


Warning: Long, Self Indulgent post ahead.

I am trying to remember how it is to write a blog post. Looks like I am already doing it now. So lets get down to the part where I actually make the effort to write something more readable than these lame introductory lines.

The idea of  this post was me to write something about a lot of things that have been happening around me and TO me since the last time I wrote about a lot of things that happened around me and TO me. Oh and that by the way, was way back in July last year when I decided to shift continents to do my Masters. And I believe the idea was to write a post before I completed my Masters and shifted continents once more to go back where I came from. So here I am, fulfilling my own expectations, way ahead of time!

1. Just to clear things up before I say anything, I am still in Blacksburg, Virginia-also known as “middle of nowhere” or “place where there is nothing to do”- with the only claim to fame of this place being that it is where Virginia Tech is located. Perhaps, at this point, if you are still not able to make the connection (i.e if your IQ<75 or if you are Timmy), I am doing my Masters at VTech (Go Hokies! I guess…). While my last post about my stay here would have indicated that there could not have been anything better I could have chosen, I have also come to realize that where it really matters, I have nothing to show. In every other aspect, I could not have asked for anything more. Having said that, I have also come to realize that things have their own way of setting themselves right and so am ready to play out the remainder of my stay here.

2. Now looking at the brighter side of things, lets just start off by saying that I was able to experience one of my to do things, somewhere pretty much on top of my bucket list. And I am talking about ME WATCHING METALLICA LIVE! All those times I listened to them back in India and felt so damn helpless that I could never get to see them live, I guess this is definitely one of those dream come true things. October 17th at  John Paul Jones (not the Led Zep dude) Arena Charlottesville is where I saw Metallica play Sad but True, Fuel, One, Master of Puppets, Creeping death and a lot more. So next time somebody talks about how they wish to see Metallica Live, I can show them this video and tell them  I was there when Metallica made their trademark entrance with Ecstasy of Gold (Remember Ennio Morricone and Good, Bad and Ugly?)

I WAS FUCKIN’ THERE when Metallica played FADE TO BLACK!

And I was there when they played Enter Sandman

And I was friggin’ there when Metallica played ONE.

I can go on and on posting videos of every single song that I saw Metallica perform live. But I guess you get the point. But I still remember that time when they were playing Nothing Else Matters and I began to think of all those times when I was fantasizing what I would do if I saw Metallica perform Nothing Else Matters live. I had thought I would sing along, probably play an air guitar. But in the end, all I could do was just sit back and just LIVE a lifetime through that song! Those 2 hours made the rest of my bovine existence get some meaning.

3. Sticking with concerts, I saw Eric Clapton & Roger Daltrey live last month at Raleigh, NC. Raleigh, NC, also being the same place where North Carolina State University is located where one of my fellow Alcoholics (and a stand in 🙂 for Team Rectilinear Redemption ) from NITK is doing his Masters along with a Mal who is still trying to learn the Mal language. Or to put it in simpler words, I met up with Masai and Hiran, who were staying along with Sounder. I met them after almost 2 years and needless to say, alcohol consumption was pretty much high on the agenda. (Come to think of it, that was the only thing on the agenda) Meeting them after that long and seeing that they have hardly changed was perhaps what made the whole experience even better. Masai, for one, still continued to be the opportunistic, manipulative, cogent speaking guy that he has always been. Hiran, on the other hand, still reveled in the wholesome process of Masai-belting. Sounder poor guy had a bout of sore throat, thus rendering his voice non existent. Getting drunk with an alcohol buddy and belting him just for who he is after almost 2 years is I have to say, quite priceless stuff. But perhaps, one thing I will take away from the trip is when we went to an Irish bar where Masai and I ordered Guinness beer to the waitress who asked “Is that all?” and to which Masai coolly and purposefully replied, “Thats all. Thank You SWEETIE!” Good Ole Masai! Hope he stays this way for the rest of his life! Either way, this was way better than that time when he was drunk and said “I wanna h**p the whores” at 2 AM in a temple on top of a mountain!” Here is a pic of me, Masai and Hiran at that very Irish bar.

Hiran, Me and Masai- after almost 2 years.

And as far as the concert itself is concerned, it was quite an eventful affair. This included missing out on more than one exit on the way to the arena (thanks to an awesome GPS), consequently getting stuck in traffic for more than 2 hours while I was setting new records for holding some salty stuff in my bladder for an extended period of time. This eventually made my friend and I miss out on a few Roger Daltrey songs but we were both in time for Baba O’ Reily though!

But of course, the reason I went there was to see Eric Clapton set his guitar on fire and to hear him sign Layla. Which he did of course, along with a host of other songs. But I really got my money’s worth ten times over when he sang OLD LOVE- that one song which I used to listen to day in and day out in my hostel. With an extended lead and mesmerizing vocals, I really could not have asked for anything better. That sweet sound of the Fender was a treat in itself. This is by far the best Old Love version I have ever heard. Here is the video-not that great quality but you can still hear the song clearly.

I have to admit. His vocals, even at this age, are as good and mesmerizing as ever. Just listening to him sing Wonderful Tonight is a treat in itself.

He played the acoustic version of Layla in which he distinctly messed up the lead once. But I was really looking forward to him playing Badge from his Cream days. That song has a killer bassline but then Clapton made it more riff oriented-which sounded good anyway.

Again, one of those few nights that make the rest of your life feel meaningful.

4. Still sticking to concerts, I have to say fortune seems to be favoring me a lot of late, especially with the convenience at which things seem to be happening. I got to see Prasanna Live. Right here at VTech, free of cost and at about 10 feet distance. Whats more? I got to meet him backstage after the concert! Amazing chap. Extremely humble and nice. Got to learn that I would be missing out on Victor Wooten’s workshop back in Bangalore. Damn! But either way, amazing experience for more than one reason I would later learn.

And just so I complete my concert experiences here, I will be going to see Porcupine Tree Live this month end.

5. My Trip to Florida: West Palm Beach, Florida. 5 days of unlimited fun including unlimited alcohol, and unlimited inspiration. Meeting all my idols, going for a swim in the Atlantic ocean under inebriated conditions at 12 AM, enjoying the 40 deg C increase in weather, generally getting drunk, awesome 12 hour road trips and trying out some awesome exotic food- all in one place and in a span of 5 days is I have to say pretty damn awesome.

6. My experiences with Snow: Here is how I reacted to Blacksburg being covered with snow:

Day it snowed: This is friggin awesome! Mindblowing stuff this snow is! I LOVE SNOW!

1 Day after snow: Yeah! There is snow everywhere!

2 Days after snow:  Hey look! There is still snow everywhere.

3 Days after snow: Oh it is still covered in snow.

4 Days after snow: No bus service on weekend. Stuck at home. Damn this snow!

5 Days after snow: Weekend plans messed up. WTF is this snow doing here?

6 Days after snow: Total disaster. Cant walk out of the house without 5 layers of clothing and shoes.

7 Days after snow: My Facebook status: “In the next few days, if anyone spots a snowman who is significantly deformed, beaten up, or simply violated, then you know where all I have been.” and “RIght now I am so damn pissed at the snow that is going to ruin my weekend plans, that I think I will build a huge snow man and molest it every single day for the entire next week. And you can be sure there will not be any protection in sight!”

And then snow was the reason why I ended up  having a nice time one Sunday, which, I would realize later, meant a lot more.

7. My Awesome Culinary Exploits: It took me all of one week in America to realize that I DO NOT like American food. Apart from the mandatory presence of beef and other meat in practically every dish, I still do not prefer bland, mix-a-lot-of-stuff-together-and-you-have-a-meal type of food. (I liked the Cookies and the Pumpkin Pie though 🙂 ) And I am sick of having to eat the same Veggie Patty sandwich at Subway.  As a direct consequence of this, my culinary skills have gone from edible to tastes-like-something to tastes good to simply-mind-blowing! Most of the stuff are South Indian dishes including Masala Dosa, Onion Uthappam, Gojju Avalakki, Nucchinunde, Coconut Burfi a.k.a Kobri Mithai, etc. All this has made my parents and well wishers warn me that this might work against me as my eventual would be wife would make me do all the cooking thus ‘escaping her duties!’ You can find most of the awesome stuff that I have prepared here.

8. The last 7 days have perhaps been the most eventful days I have had in a long long time. They were painful, stressful, filled with helplessness, frustration and at the same time also blissful, memorable, filled with clear skies, pancakes and one nice meteor. It is almost like I have been living life for the past 7 days filled with extremities at both ends. Technically I guess this would perfectly qualify for a week wherein MY LIFE WAS AVERAGE! But when in reality, it was anything but average. In more than one way, I will look back to this week and say “Those 7 days were when I learnt that I have the capacity to reason my way through the tough times and the memorable times.”

In regard to this, I guess it will be relevant now to tell Kitta : “I am no longer able to continue on our rounds of Mathematical Induction every birthday. My ‘n’ stops at 24. I am sure you know what I mean. Keep the comments discreet though!”

So there you have it! My past 6 months in less than 2000 words and a few videos. Now I have to go do something more worthwhile such as publicizing this post in all social media circles.