Steven Wilson is one tough person to see live, especially when one lives on the West Coast. Mr. Wilson tends to stay in England or Europe in general, and the few times he does make it out to the United States, he rarely travels west of the Mississippi. I was lucky enough to have seen him once in the past with Porcupine Tree while supporting their album “Fear of a Blank Planet.” It was an amazing show, so when I found out that several years later Steven Wilson would be in Los Angeles, I had to make the trek north to see him again.
Wilson and Company played on June 14th at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, a decent sized music hall that sat a couple thousand people. The building itself was stunning, a blue-green Art Deco-style building having been built in the 30’s, although they could’ve charged less for parking. Seriously, $22? There went my drink money. An almost sold out show, the venue was packed, everyone anticipating an amazing set. Finding out a week prior that it would be recorded as part of the Yahoo concert series was a cool bonus, since I was able to replay the concert the following day to my heart’s desire.
The lights dimmed as the screen above the stage portrayed the flickering lights outside an urban apartment complex. The continued echo of the keyboard intro of “First Regret” signaled the start of the concert. It was a cool moment sitting in anticipation for the band to arrive. They slowly made their way to the stage and readied themselves for the epic “3 Years Older.”
The band played a majority of their newest album “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” in nearly chronological order, except for switching the two singles “Hand Cannot Erase” and “Perfect Life.” Inserted between these songs were some of his well-known songs off his prior albums, including “Harmony Korine,” “The Watchmaker,” “The Raven That Refused To Sing,” “Index,” and even Porcupine Tree’s “Lazarus.” I want to give a moment to describe “Index” since it was the most memorable moment of the night. The song was downright spooky, one of the craziest moments I’ve ever experienced in a concert. Beginning with simple snapping of the fingers from all members, they all stared into the audience with an unemotional glare, only to be brought to life during the song’s chorus. My wife was even blocking her eyes since she was visibly disturbed by the stage show, featuring an arrangement of burning dolls and scattered body parts. It felt like something ripped from a Rob Zombie movie.
Steven Wilson interacted with the audience on several occasions, even pitching his new acoustic guitar series. Known for having a seriously stoic personality, I enjoyed his involvement with the crowd, and was surprised by how down-to-earth he was. In the meantime, Nick Beggs was easily heard and felt on the bass guitar. Every other song he would switch from a fretless Chapman Stick to a regular bass guitar, which was interesting to see. Finally, Adam Holzman played around with three different keyboards and synthesizers for his solos. With all the different noises coming from the stage, some of my favorite moments were the simple piano arrangements Holzman played, especially for the song “Happy Returns,” being my favorite track off the album.
Overall, I enjoyed the concert very much. The stage presence was amazing, the light show and visuals worked with the set perfectly. Each musician played all the right parts, incorporating numerous solos throughout. They played all their best songs, including nearly all the “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” album. A very emotional show, I could easily see the audience sucked into music.
There were some downsides, though. I might have played the concert up too much in my head since I had anticipated it for months. For some reason I expected the concert to be longer, even though it clocked in at just over two hours. I was imagining a longer set, comparable to Dream Theater’s three hour, two-set-plus-an-encore show. Leave it to progressive rock music to make me greedy for more. In addition, finding out that not only guitarist/solo extraordinaire Guthrie Govan wouldn’t perform, but also master drummer/percussionist Marco Minnemann wouldn’t be there as well was a little saddening. Then, as the concert started, searching and not seeing saxophonist/clarinetist Theo Travis on stage was an additional bummer. No jazzy flair was added to any of their songs, instead replaced with keyboards, keyboards, and more keyboards. Essentially three of the six in Steven Wilson’s band didn’t make the trip. With that said, I was entertained watching Dave Kilminster on lead guitar, who I had the chance to interact with him through Facebook weeks before the concert. Great job, man!
If Steven Wilson ever comes within a reasonable distance from your town, I highly recommend you check it out. His music is an experimental mix of rock and pop, including numerous other subgenres. The stage show is amazing, the music is amazing, and the fans are amazing. I just hope that everyone makes it the next time I see them live.
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