Review by Paul Quinton
A mere eighteen months after his band’s outstanding show at the Civic on the ‘Raven That Refused To Sing’ Tour, Steven Wilson returned with another terrific new album in his locker, the slightly puzzlingly titled Hand. Cannot. Erase. In some ways, this was similar to the previous show with the same band and the same stage set-up and even some of the same lighting and stage presentation effects, but while that 2013 show was one of the very best of that year, this was a step up even from that.
Proceedings opened bang on the advertised start time of 8.00 with an introductory film based around one of the themes of the new album. The record is built around the story of a woman who died in her London flat, but was not missed or even found until three years later, and so the opening sequence gave us images of grim tower blocks, and urban landscapes that became more and more bleak, increasing the suggestion of isolation and loneliness, before the band emerged one by one. As might be expected, the show was built around the album, although it wasn’t a straightforward run through. While the songs were played in sequence, Wilson was smart enough to break things up by inserting songs from what he wryly described as his back catalogue, and typically, these were carefully chosen to fit in with the subject matter of the new album.. These included the majestic ‘Harmony Korine’ and the ominous, downright scary ‘Index’, as well as, to the enormous delight of the Civic crowd, a couple of diversions into the Porcupine Tree back catalogue, including a hugely powerful ‘Sleep Together’, to finish the main set, with the band operating at full power.
And for any fan of this strange beast we call progressive rock, seeing the Steven Wilson Band is something to savour. All the band; Guthrie Govan on guitar, Nick Beggs on bass, Chapman Stick and occasional keyboards, Adam Holzman on keyboards and Marco Minneman on drums, along with Wilson himself on guitar, keyboards and occasional bass, were on the very best form and as a unit are not only ridiculously tight, but also have the freedom within that unit to exploit the full range of their skills. Some of Govan’s solos, in particular, were absolutely breathtaking and a couple of times there was the joyously Prog spectacle of two bassists playing at once.
As at the previous show, it was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the presentation of the show. Most of the songs played were accompanied by film projections that illustrated the songs perfectly, whether the characters in the songs were portrayed by actors or by animation, and when they weren’t, the light show was simple by some standards, but used imaginatively and extremely effectively. Added to that was, yet again, a sound that was as good as any I’ve ever heard, in any venue. It was loud, very loud at times, but amazingly clear, and also mixed in surround sound, serving to immerse the audience even further into the experience of the show.
Even Wilson himself seemed more relaxed than previously, although unlike last time, he didn’t have to deal with hecklers, and there was plenty of dry humour in his introductions, mostly at the expense of Nick Beggs, even hinting at one point that the bassist wasn’t necessarily averse to having an operation so he could perform the vocal parts done on the album by the female Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb, and his tales of having Leo Blair, the son of the former Prime Minister in the studio to perform the choral part on ‘Routine’ raised more than a few laughs, even if some was of the ‘I can’t believe he said that’ type..
Although the band left the stage at the conclusion of the last song played from Hand. Cannot, Erase., it wasn’t the end of the main set as the stage was cleared to allow a theatrical gauze screen to drop over the front of the stage for the accompanying film to ‘The Watchmaker’. This works so that if the band are lit behind the screen, the effect is that the band are playing within the film itself, an effect I’ve seen no other band use, and which is extremely effective, then the main set was brought to a powerful and thrilling finale with ‘Sleep Together’, before there was a single encore, the title track from The Raven That Refused To Sing. A two hour long set had gone by in what seemed like a flash. The Civic show in 2013 went straight into my shortlist for Gig of The Year, and someone is really going to have to do something special to beat this show in 2015.
1. First Regret
2. 3 Years Older
3. Hand Cannot Erase
4. Perfect Life
7. Home Invasion
8. Regret No. 9
10. Harmony Korine
12. Happy Returns
14. The Watchmaker
15. Sleep Together
16. The Raven That Refused To Sing