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Steven Wilson
Live At The Royal Albert Hall, 29.09.15

So here we are, back at the Royal Albert Hall for Steven Wilson part two. Tonight I have a completely different aspect from last night, stage left and five rows back which gives a great view down onto the stage but still really close. I have never been at the side of this venue before and I'm surprised to find that the seats swivel. No neck ache for me tonight! The other things I can see which I couldn't last night are the two vast banks of effects pedals placed in readiness for Steven and Dave, and also the full extent of Adam's keyboards.

Steven Wilson

The screen at the back of the stage flickers into life showing a view of a desolate landscape through some windows. There's the silhouette of a woman who sways and then moves imperceptibly slowly. This film is accompanied by the steady drone of Bass Communion's Cenotaph. Then suddenly the lights dim and Adam walks on, taking his seat in front of his keyboards and starts to play. Craig then takes his place behind the drums and begins pounding away. Sir Nicholas of Beggs is next onto the stage, adding his rumbling bass to the noise before Dave Kilminster wanders on, plugs in his guitar and joins the party. Finally, to huge cheers, Steven Wilson puts in an appearance. By now the music has morphed into the extended opening of No Twilight In The Courts Of The Sun. The band launch into the crushing heaviness of the main body of the song, Steven whispering and then screaming his vocals with real venom. The song writhes and twists, now heavy, now delicate... an astonishing opening to the second night.

On first addressing the crowd last night Steven informed us that was the slick, professional night. Tonight, he told us, the band would be playing songs they don't know very well and it would be an amateur shambles! As if... the closest we get to anything resembling a shambles is Steven forgetting which setting to choose on one of his pedals. Wilson takes us back in time to Porcupine Tree's Lightbulb Sun album with the mournful Shesmovedon. Played to perfection, the first goosebumps of the night duly arrive as the band gently weave this melancholy tale of lost love. This won't be the last time his old band is revisited tonight and there's the inescapable feeling that the musicians may have had a few sneaky practice sessions.

Ninet is in the venue again, so Steven takes the opportunity to revisit the sublime Routine. She seems far more comfortable tonight, moving about the stage and really getting into the music. If anything, this is an even better performance than last night's, although it is strange hearing the song in isolation. Ninet gets another standing ovation and she looks so genuinely pleased at the audience reaction. We are told the only way to follow that is with a big, dumb heavy metal song... and the band peel out the opening chords of live favourite Open Car. With the band driving the song along, you barely notice that it isn't Porcupine Tree on stage.

Taking us even further back Steven leads the band through Stupid Dream's Don't Hate Me before returning to his own solo career by introducing Guthrie Govan onto the stage. Reprising Home Invasion and Regret #9 Guthrie takes his place in the band on guitar. With his flowing blond locks he cuts a different figure to Dave and is a very different guitarist, fluid and flashy, getting lost in the music. Both men are superb players and it's impossible to decide which performance is best.

Guthrie remains on stage and is joined by Theo Travis for the sublime Drive Home. Steven quips how he now has to phone David Gilmour to borrow him for the evening. Theo sprinkles his gold dust on the song as the Newspaper Man on screen mourns the loss of his wife and the audience try not to cry with the emotion emanating from the stage.

Guthrie departs to another standing ovation but Theo remains as the band trawl through Sectarian. Angular riffs cascade off the stage, building and building, twisting and twisting to an incredible climax. After such an intense number, the band quiten things down with the soothing tones of Insurgentes. The downbeat tune is accompanied by another eerie Lasse Hoille video, shot on the open road in Mexico. No Part Of Me follows, the gentle beginning belieing the bitter-sweet lyrics then descending into the thunderous riffing of the second half of the song.

Announcing an abridged version of Raider II, the musicians take on this monumental song eventually comming out on top! Such a long, complex piece must surely test the band members to their limits, especially Dave Kilminster who learnt more than four hours of music in just four months. Theo's clarinet and saxophone weave in and out of the tumult of noise and Steven sings "I'm the plague inside your home, I'm Raider" as the song reaches a climax before ending in a cacophony of instruments. Both band and audience appear spent by the emotion of the occasion and the players wander off stage although they soon return (minus Theo) clutching various multicoloured drinks and wearing big smiles.

The gentle thrum as the band begin again morphs into Signify's epic Dark Matter. A superbly atmospheric number and again the members of Steven's solo band do full justice to another old Porcupine Tree song including a superb solo from Steven who, for the most part across the two nights, seems content to play rhythm and acoustic guitar, and occasional keyboards. It should be noted that Steven's keyboard and Mac are sitting on a small wooden table that wouldn't look out of place in his grandmother's house. It does look very odd on stage but like Wilson himself it's very quirky.

The band depart again but are called back one last time, with one last guest, Steven's erstwhile Porcupine Tree colleague Gavin Harrison who garners a huge cheer from the audience. Wilson informs us that they have run out of songs to play so they treat us to the elegaic Lazarus, reprised from last night and a great way to finish... "come with us, Lazarus, it's time for you to go...". But wait, they aren't quite finished yet. We are played another rousing rendition of The Sound Of Musak too, everyone joining in singing and clapping along with glee. There are people dancing in the aisles with pure joy and despite it not being his drum kit, Gavin doesn't miss a beat!

As with last night, Nina, Guthrie and Theo are called back onto the stage and everyone takes a well deserved bow before finally departing. This signals the end of two amazing performances, taking in a huge chunk of Steven Wilson's musical career. These two nights demonstrate the breadth of the man's talent as a musician, songwriter and arranger. There's a huge range of songs; hard and soft, complex and simple, heavy and light but all written with huge skill and performed with real emotion by all concerned. Throughout the two nights there are magical moments of pure musical bliss, moments that send shivers down your spine, make the hairs stand up on your arms and bring tears to your eyes.

Outside afterwards many people are overheard calling these the gigs of the year and, given the nature of the performances over the two nights at this grand old venue, it would be hard to argue against them.
Set List: No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun / Shesmovedon / Routine (with Ninet Tayeb) / Open Car / Don't Hate Me / Home Invasion (with Guthrie Govan) / Regret #9 (with Guthrie Govan) / Drive Home (with Guthrie Govan and Theo Travis) / Sectarian (with Theo Travis) / Insurgentes (with Theo Travis) / No Part of Me (with Theo Travis) / Raider II (with Theo Travis) Encore One: Dark Matter Encore Two: Lazarus / The Sound Of Musak
Live photo © Hajo Mueller / Live background photo © Lasse Hoile

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