Review By Paul Quinton, Photos by Russ Powney
The second series of U.K. gigs in support of Steven Wilson’s acclaimed ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing’ album finally reached the Midlands with a date at the Civic Hall. Although the Civic was in fully seated mode, it wasn’t quite full on the night, but there was definitely an anticipatory buzz in the air, as not only the Black Country’s Progerati had gathered but fans from several different parts of the UK and Europe.
Despite an advertised 7.30 start time, the hall was still slowly filling up when the filmed intro began rolling at twenty to eight. This was a sound collage of assorted public information warnings coupled with a time lapse film of a busker in a busy street. Eventually, after about twenty minutes, the busker’s guitar was replaced by the sound of the live version, as Wilson himself entered the stage, seemingly playing along with the film, to begin the show with an acoustic version of the Porcupine Tree song ‘Trains’, before he was joined by the rest of the band for ‘Luminol’. Straightaway it has to be said that the sound in the Civic was absolutely magnificent. Yes, it was loud, but absolutely crystal clear. Every vocal, every instrument could be picked out easily, and when the band wanted to turn on the power, as they did several times during the show, it worked to tremendous effect. What’s more, and this is a personal first, it was a surround sound system, with vocals, music and effects coming at you from all directions and absorbing you into the whole experience.
During the first half, there was an unusual moment, when bassist Nick Beggs switched to a Chapman stick bass and Wilson played a more commonplace four-string version, which led to one of the first songs I’ve ever seen performed with two basses, which for some reason seems one of the proggiest things I’ve ever witnessed. However, the real highlight of the opening hour of the show was an absolutely mesmerising ‘Drive Home’, backed by the newly released animated video, and with a stunningly intricate guitar solo from Guthrie Govan. The whole thing was as absorbing and moving as it was brilliant. Wilson had also promised that there would be some new material in the show, and true to his word, he then introduced ‘Break It And It’s Yours’, although it seems the title varies from gig to gig. It was a long piece, and he admitted that the music was still evolving, and that there was every chance that ultimately it might become two or three separate songs.
After that the band left the stage briefly and a curtain of theatrical gauze was dropped in front of the stage. This has the property of becoming nearly opaque if a light is shined onto it, but almost transparent when lit from behind. The lighting effects the band were able to produce with this were eye-opening. At one stage images of a ghostly forest were projected onto the curtain and with the band lit on the stage, the effect was to make it seem as if they were playing in the forest itself. Simple, but extremely effective. The curtain was removed for the band to play ‘’Harmony Corine’, then there was a slightly disconcerting interval when Wilson got into conversation with a heckler who complained that the music was too pretentious and ‘Miles Davis-y’, and that he, meaning the heckler, preferred something that he could sing in the shower. With calm and typically understated disdain, Wilson informed him ‘that’s not really what I do,’ then introduced ‘Raider II’ with particular mention of its ‘somewhat pretentious silences’, whereas he might also have mentioned the effects coming from all sides of the hall, before the full band came in with a riff that felt as if the Civic was being lifted from its foundations. This particular piece was edited down to around 15 minutes, and was followed by a comparatively simple but powerful version of ‘The Raven…’ itself, to end the main set.
The encore was Porcupine Tree’s ‘Radioactive Toy, which ended with the band in full flight again with an excerpt from Storm Corrosion’s ‘Ljudet Innan’, followed by Wilson calling each member of the band to the mic to take a well-deserved bow, and bringing to an end one of the most intense, thought provoking and mesmerising shows I’ve seen for quite a while. Absolutely outstanding.
See more of Russ’s photos here: