I was originally turned onto Steven Wilson through the recommendation of Kevin Pollack, editor of this online magazine, as he knew I was a prog rocker and thought I would enjoy his music. He was right! I became a huge fan of Wilson’s band, Porcupine Tree, and have followed his multitude of side and solo projects. So it was with great anticipation that I attended the concert at Park West, which was in support of his solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories).
Steven Wilson is a musical genius and seems to have boundless energy as he is involved in such a wide array of projects. He is an outstanding musician; playing guitar, keyboards, and other instruments including bass guitar, concert harp, hammered dulcimer, and flute. He is also a great vocalist, lead singer in a number of his band projects. In addition, he is an accomplished songwriter. In addition to his band, Porcupine Tree, he is involved in many other bands and musical projects, serving as both musician and producer in bands such as Blackfield, No-Man, Storm Corrosion (with Opeth frontman Michael Akerfeldt), in addition to his solo work.
This amazing artist also is involved with musical engineering as well. He has been involved in the remastering of classic prog rock albums by Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer in surround sound. ( I own his remastered versions of the first ELP album and Tarkus and they are amazing in surround sound!)
This concert featured his third solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) in it’s entirety with some other songs. The touring band was made of the musicians who played on the Raven and they were top notch.
Adam Holzman (son of Elektra Records’ founder, Jac Holzman), an American jazz keyboardist was on keyboards. He has performed as a sideman with numerous performers. Notably, in 1985, he was hired by Miles Davis to play keyboards on Davis’ Tutu album, stayed with him for four years and eventually became his musical director.
Guthrie Govan, an English guitarist and teacher was on lead guitar. He was noted for his work with the bands The Aristocrats, Asia, GPS, The Young Punx, and the Fellowship. In 1993, he was named the winner of Guitarist magazine’s “Guitarist of the Year.” He is considered one of the world’s best contemporary electric guitar players. He plays a wide range of music, but is primarily considered a jazz fusion player and shred guitarist. He travels all over the world and teaches at guitar clinics internationally.
Nick Beggs, another Englishman, was on bass guitar, a notable bassist and known for playing the Chapman Stick. He has played in a number of bands and been involved in many musical projects, including his work with Steven Wilson, and another musician close to my heart, Steve Hackett. In March of 2013 it was announced that he joined the prog rock band, Pineapple Thief.
Theo Travis, an English saxophonist and flautist, has an international reputation as one of the brightest stars on the British jazz scene. In fact, he is regarded as one of the foremost saxophonists and flautists in progressive rock music. He has played on over 110 albums and recorded with various such as Gong, Soft Machine, Legacy, Robert Fripp, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson Band, Bill Bruford, and many others.
Rounding out this talented band is the German-born drummer, Marco Minnemann. As is typical for this amazing band Steven Wilson assembled, Minnemann has many solo albums, on which he plays most of the instruments and sings, and is constantly working as a composer and session artist. He played with Steven Wilson on the “Grace for Drowning” Tour 2011-12, as well as The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) tour. Minnemann is also noted for being Joe Satriani’s drummer.
The concert was a sellout and Park West was packed, all in attendance anticipating an outstanding concert experience. The lights dimmed precisely at 8 PM and the band walked onstage to a thunderous ovation. As a barefoot Steven Wilson walked onstage the decibel level dramatically increased. For his live shows, it is his custom to play with bare feet. This went back to his early childhood, as he has said, “I always had a problem wearing shoes and I’ve always gone around with bare feet.” He also remarked that playing in bare feet gives him an advantage in operating his diverse guitar pedals. He commented that, “I’ve stepped on nails, screws, drawing pins, stubbed my toe, I’ve come off stage with blood just coming out…I mean, I’ve had it all mate, but to be honest, nothing’s going to stop me.” (Quotations from Wikipedia article). This night, at least, he had no problems with his feet.
The band immediately launched into Luminol from The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). Wilson started out on keyboards, as all night the lion’s share of the lead guitar work was done by Govan. Wilson was almost hyperkinetic bouncing between keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars. The band was superlative all night, they were tight, and displayed the outstanding musicianship you would expect form such a talented group of individuals. Vocally, Steven Wilson, was amazing as always and his musicianship impeccable.
The band played all the songs from The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), but not in sequential fashion, rather having various songs from Wilson’s other solo albums interspersed.
Luminol (The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories))
Drive Home (The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories))
The Pin Drop (The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories))
Post Card (Grace for Drowning)
The Holy Drinker (The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories))
Deform to Form a Star (Grace for Drowning)
The Watchmaker (The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories))
Index (Grace for Drowning)
Sectarian (Grace for Drowning)
Harmony Korine (Insurgentes)
Raider II (Grace for Drowning)
The Raven That Refused to Sing (The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories))
Radioactive Toy (Porcupine Tree Song)
Musically, it is hard to pigeonhole Wilson’s music, as you would hear bits of King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, metal, jazz….indescribable, but unique, interesting, and totally enjoyable. He is an animated performer, roving all over the stage, but delivering vocally and musically.
The show was a bit of a multi-media affair as there was a video screen behind the stage with various supported images/videos being projected. About halfway through the show a sheer curtain dropped in front of the stage and videos were projected on that screen for a portion of the show.
Wilson maintained a good banter with the crowd all night, making comments and introductions to some of the songs. In his introduction to “Post Card” he said, “I am not known for three minute pop songs. In fact, for songs not less than ten minutes long.” The audience ate up his comments all night long.
The concert lasted for over two hours and was a totally enjoyable experience. The icing on the cake was the encore, the Porcupine Tree classic, “Radioactive Toy.” Wilson introduced it by stating, “What to do for an encore?” He made mention of the “Free Bird incident” at Park West. (That was when they recorded the live show for the Porcupine Tree DVD “Arriving Somewhere” at the Park West Theater. As Wilson was talking about the encore for that show, someone screamed out “Free Bird!” Wilson smiled and jokingly said, “Not tonight, that is on the set for tomorrow.”) He kiddingly said we might do it tonight though..
The “Radioactive Toy” encore in its “Pink Floydian” glory was absolutely enthralling and was a perfect end to great concert experience. Steven Wilson is not to be missed, in whatever reincarnation he is in, be it the Steven Wilson Band, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, No-Man. The man is an incredible talent. The band he has assembled for the Raven, and this tour was a phenomenal collection of musicians which enhanced the entire performance.
Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 5/3/13
Photos by Peter S. Sakas