“We probably picked the worst week ever to tour Canada.” Steven Wilson’s sense of humour was in full swing last night as he and his band braved the cold and snow for a return engagement in Montreal (the band played a pair of shows in town last June), still touring behind the magnificent “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” album as well as the “4 1/2” EP (which is long enough to be an album in and of itself).
The first part of the 3 hour show featured the former album in its entirety, supported by fantastic short films projected behind the band. The tale of urban isolation is greatly enhanced by the beautifully sad imagery of a woman going through life in London while seemingly never managing to connect with anyone except for memories of a lost sister. We were very fortunate that on this leg of the tour singer Ninet Tayeb has joined Wilson’s touring band to contribute her vocal parts from the album (she was pre-recorded last time). Her emotionally charged performance brought the music to another level, mesmerizing the crowd any time she was on. In the live setting, the music took on a vitality of its own: less polished than on record but much more raw and organic. The songs went from soft melancholy to complex angst effortlessly, in a dizzying display of raw energy and technical virtuosity.
In addition to Ms Tayeb, Steven Wilson is backed by four amazing musicians. Dave Kilminster on guitar has obviously been influenced by his years playing David Gilmour’s solos in Roger Waters’ band, as he brings a soulful fluidity to his parts that make his instrument stand out. Adam Holzman on keyboards shines whether playing soft melancholic piano parts or chaotic passages of Zappa-esque proportions. On bass and Chapman Stick, Nick Beggs is miles and years away from his musical debut with early 80’s one-hit wonders Kajagoogoo (look that one up) as he burns the fretboards. And drummer Craig Blundell leads the band expertly through all the tortuous changes the music goes through.
The second set was built around “4 1/2”, interspersed with songs from his other solo albums, as well as Porcupine Tree which Wilson laconically referred to as “my last band”. “Lazarus” stood out with its slightly updated arrangement that put the acoustic guitar more upfront. Wilson dedicated the track to the late David Bowie (he also curated a playlist of Bowie tracks that played before the show), anartist that was a big influence on him.
He also revealed that the track “My Book of Regrets” from “4 1/2” is actually a live recording touched up in the studio, and that live recording was from the June 28 2015 show in Montreal (which I reviewed here). Ninet Tayeb came back for a duet arrangement of the Porcupine Tree deep cut “Don’t Hate Me” that also drew thunderous applause. The set concluded with “Sleep Together” from “Fear of a Blank Planet”.
For the encore, Wilson and Tayeb performed one last tribute to David Bowie by playing a fantastic cover of “Space Oddity” that we can only hope will be released at some point. He then dipped one last time into the Porcupine Tree catalog with “Sound of Muzak” before closing with “The Raven That Refused to Sing” which, paraphrasing Ginger Baker, he called “the best song I’ve ever written. Certainly in my Top 1 at least.”
After a full three hours of music, the crowd gave the band a thunderous and well-deserved ovation. Steven Wilson proved again that he is an amazing musician, certainly one of the giants of modern progressive rock. Even if he hates that term.
Editor’s note: Steven Wilson has been very vocal about his disdain for cameras at his concerts so no photos were taken.