Reviews of recent live shows in Montreal and around the globe

July 1st, 2015
Steven Wilson week
A review by Robert Dansereau, June 27 to 29, 2015:
One of the most highly anticipated musical events this year is certainly Steven Wilson's series of shows in Quebec for his latest album,
Hand... Cannot... Erase... I can only describe the last few days as my "Steven Wilson week" : A last-minute invitation to attend the Steven Wilson Press conference, as part of the Montreal Jazz Festival, followed by one show in Montreal and one show in Quebec City.

On Saturday afternoon, June 27, I was invited to attend the Montreal Jazz Fest press conference with Steven Wilson, hosted by interviewer Marie Hélène Poitras. A 45-minute event organized by Simon Fauteux, and a fascinating insight into Steven's musical journey. You can see the conference in its entirety on Youtube.

Asked if there will ever be another Porcupine Tree album, Steven responds: "It will never be my prime focus ever again, I could see a situation where we might make another record together, but I think realistically, that it would now be a side project, my solo project is now established as my primary focus."

On his involvement in various projects and collaborations like No Man and Blackfield: "For me it's simply a reflection of all the music I listen to and all the music that I love, I've always been curious [...] People say to me you're kind of a freak, you're always doing these different things and you seem to work every day, and I genuinely don't understand why there aren't more people like me that seem to be interested in working across all genres of music. I'm happy to work on ambient music and noise music, pure pop and jazz, progressive rock and death metal... for me it's just good and interesting music! In a way, I see myself as the normal one and everyone else is strange; staying in only one genre your whole career is odd to me."

On his love of music: "I voraciously devour music, I discover music through vinyls and CDs, I still buy ten albums every week, always discovering things. The thing about the history of music is that when you think you have heard everything, something else will come along and surprise you that you did not know about. I think also that your musical taste changes as you get older so things that didn't make sense to you when you were a teenager suddenly click and I find that happening a lot as I get older. I'm always amazed by how much fantastic music is available and still there to be discovered even at my age. I'm still very curious and passionate about discovering music I'm not familiar with."

On the genre/label of progressive music: "I don't believe there is any such thing as progressive music anymore, [...] I don't think it's possible to be truly progressive and do something that no one has heard before, I'd love to be proven wrong but I listen to a lot of music and probably since the mid-nineties was the last time I honestly was hearing things that I've never heard before. Most of the music, much of which I still love, that I've heard over the last twenty years is not progressive, it's using an established musical vocabulary, and there's nothing wrong with that, I still believe you can invest music with a feeling of freshness by having a fresh perspective on the same kind of things people have done before and that's really what i'm doing and hey, that what most people are doing! You can't hear any music now without hearing something that's been done before, a precedent..."

One of the questions I asked him is if there was some leftover material from the Hand... Cannot... Erase... sessions, and if there would be a potential EP of complementary material like he often does (like Drive Home - 2014) and his answer was a definite yes, there is some material and there will most probably be an accompanying mini-album of outtakes, he's not sure when.

The other question I asked was if Alan Parson's engineering collaboration on The Raven that Refused to Sing might have influenced some of his material with elements of Tales of Mystery and Imagination: "I do love that album [Tales of Mystery...] but it was coincidental in the sense that Raven was written long before Alan Parsons was attached to the project, but there is obviously a strong common theme, I did listen a lot to that album when I was young, so probably it was a subconscious thing, it's a great record."

After the conference, Steven briefly saluted the crowd and chatted with the fans. I could not resist asking Simon to snap a pic of me with one of my musical idols! Now am on cloud nine and I can rest in peace!

Hand... Cannot... Erase... is loosely based on the life of Joyce Carol Vincent, whose sad story was recounted in the documentary Dreams of a Life in 2011. Vincent died in London in 2003 after severing ties with family, friends and the world at large. It wasn’t until two years later that the 38-year-old’s body was discovered in her flat. Wilson saw that documentary and it inspired him to write a whole album about her, recounting the arc of her life from beginning to end. As Steven recounted: "it's about a woman growing up, who goes to live in the city, very isolated, and she disappears one day and no one notices. There's more to it than that. Now, what's really interesting about this story is that your initial reaction when you hear a story like that is, 'Ah, little old bag lady that no one notices, no one cares about. But Vincent wasn't like that. She was young, she was popular, she was attractive, she had many friends, she had family, but for whatever reason, nobody missed her for almost three years."

Saturday evening... The concert at the Metropolis de Montreal began around 8:35 PM, and after the introduction video featuring London high-rise buildings and apartments, the musicians slowly made their way onstage, presenting the first half of the Hand... Cannot... Erase... album, with First Regret, 3 Years Older, Hand... Cannot... Erase... and Perfect Life.

Accompanying Steven on this North-American tour, Nick Beggs on bass, stick and vocals, Craig Blundell on drums, Dave Kilminster on guitar and Adam Holzman on keyboards, definitely an exceptional gathering of musicians, the European tour features Guthrie Govan on guitars and Marco Minnemann on drums, both of which were unavailable because of previous engagements with the Aristocrats in Europe.

Never in the years since his Porcupine Tree tours and his solo work was Steven Wilson so volubile on stage, bantering with much humour and communicating more than ever with his fans, at one point, Steven mentions "miserable music makes me happy and that happy music makes me miserable", a perfect segway for him to present what his producer describes as the most miserable song he ever wrote, Routine, accompanied by a beautiful animated, heart-wrenching video like no one but Steven can imagine. Then on to the fantastic Home invasion / Regret #9, an extensive, intense roller-coaster ride of hard rock, beautiful melodies and dark images.

The group followed-up with the first Porcupine Tree song of the evening, the melodic Lazarus. Between two songs, Steven introduced with much enthusiasm his wonderful new Steven Wilson Babicz acoustic signature guitar, suggesting humorously that if you're looking for a great guitar, that's what you want to get because it's beautiful, it sounds great and the best thing... it's black!

And then on to what I can definitely describe as one of the highlights of the show, as all the members of the band were snapping their fingers in unison, I recognized the first notes of Index, a thoroughly blistering alternate version that left me breathless. Then on to the lovely hommage to shoegazing and edgy film directors with the song Harmony Korine. Throughout the show, I am always impressed with the stunning visual accompaniements, many if not all from the dark and brooding imagination of Lasse Hoile. And then Steven concluded the Hand... Cannot... Erase... part of his show with Ancestral, Happy Returns and Ascendant.

After a few seconds in total darnkess as fans are cheering and screaming their lungs out, the lights come back with the familiar translucent screen in front of the stage they used in previous tours, for the next two songs. After a dramatic and macabre introduction video with clocks and old men with gloomy stares, we are treated to a beautiful, melodic and dark interpretation of The Watchmaker, immediately followed by another Porcupine Tree track, Sleep Together, which ranks very high on the terminally sinister scale.

For the Encore, Steven shared the latest FIFA soccer scores, mentioning that England beat Canada, and judging by the modest response, discovered that Montreal is more of a hockey town than a soccer town. He then presented what he described as a jazzy but with a heavy metal twist version of Sectarian, a thoroughly delicious version with an amazingly disturbing video background, and for the grand finale, the beautiful and emotionally heavy The Raven that Refused to Sing.

In his press conference, Steven mentioned that he would have at times 20 different reviews of one show and that not one would be the same, that those reviews are not fact, but simple opinions. I agree. So here's my opinion: Steven Wilson is by far one of the most imaginative, dynamic and energetic performer that I have seen and his shows are always absolutely amazing, from the first note to the last. Yes I admit that I have been a long-time fan, but his shows NEVER disappoint, and he always takes tremendous care in offering well-crafted shows and top-notch performances to his fans.

A million thanks to Simon Fauteux for giving me the unique opportunity to participate in this fascinating press conference before the show, it was certainly the highlight of my week, if not my year!

In Quebec City, the Monday, June 29 show at the Impérial Bell was in front of a highly energetic crowd, and Steven & Co. gave yet another stunning performance. The sound was impeccable but quite loud, making my earplugs a necessity to avoid tinnitus. Right in the middle of the performance, Steven Wilson had a small technical issue as one of his bass strings broke at the beginning of Home Invasion, which gave way to some very funny banter between Nick and Steven while the tech crew was replacing the broken string. the show itself was almost a carbon copy of the Saturday show in Montreal, except that they replaced Sectarian with No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun, from Insurgentes. I want to thank Jérôme Dechêne and Jean-Louis Croteau for the kind invitation to this great evening of music in La Vieille Capitale.

Quite an extraordinary series of shows on this North-American tour, with unanimous praise from critics and reviewers. I tip my hat to Mr. Wilson and his merry men for his consistently exceptional shows, which mix entertainment, intensity, musical virtuosity with captivating background videos and simple yet elegant and visually efficient lighting. That, my friends, is what live music is all about.

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