Porcupine Tree, March 15th 2001
013, Tilburg, The Netherlands
By Ed Sander
Porcupine Tree live in 013. That's quite a difference from seeing them
live in small venues like De Pul in 1998 and
Willem II in 1999. Seemingly the band is doing
quite well with their 'new' musical direction, especially since they
played some more gigs in Holland (De Boerderij, Paradiso) and
Belgium (Biebob) in the same month.
These gigs are all part of the promotional tour for the band's latest
album Lightbulb Sun.
During the gig band leader Steve Wilson mentioned that this tour was rather
overdue since the album had been released a year ago already. However,
last year the band got offered to be support act for Dream Theater. Wilson
asked the audience of 013 if anybody that went to see Dream Theater live
got into Porcupine Tree after seeing them. Several people shouted out, to
which Wilson replied bitterly, "Good, so it was worth losing all that
The concert featured Karnataka as support act. Personally I'm not
very much into support acts. They just waste my time while I wait for the
band I wanted to see live. Only very rarely have I come across a support
act that I found really interesting. This occassion was no exception. Don't
get me wrong, Karnataka are a bunch of fine musicians who do what they
do very well. And some of the tunes were quite okay to kill time and
tap your toes to. It just wasn't really my cup of tea; I wouldn't call
their music progressive rock either, it was more some kind of alternative
rock with saxophone. The tunes were to straightforward and monotonous to
be called prog. Besides that, the stage presence of the skinny female singer -
who by the way had a fine voice - wasn't much more than the occassional
jump or uncontrolled move.
When Karnatak were finished, the curtains were closed and about 20 minutes
later they were opened again to reveal Steve, Chris, Richard and Colin on
the big stage of 013. Quite a different sight from seeing them huddled
together on stage in a smaller venue. I'm not sure this really worked,
visually. The band didn't have any stage props (besides two things that
probably represented a cold and hot lightbulb), they didn't have any
slide projections either, like during the Stupid Dream tour and
the stage just looked very big and empty.
The light show was very effective though, creating the right moods and
keeping the band rather anonymous (no solos in the spotlight). Chris
Maitland's big drum kit played an important and smart role in the light
show, lights bouncing of his big cymbals and golden toms.
As was to be expected, the setlist focussed on the more song-orientated
material of the last three albums, with 6 out of the 10 song from
Lightbulb Sun, 4 songs
from Stupid Dream and 2 songs
from Signify. Fans of the old material will probably have been
disappointed with 'just' Voyage 34 and Up The Downstairs,
although these marvellous tracks represent more than 20 minutes of music.
No classic material
from The Sunday of Life (e.g. Radiocative Toy) or The Sky
Moves Sideways (e.g. Dislocated Day) was played this time.
But hey, you don't here me complaining because I love both 'periods' of the
Something which does disappoint me a bit every time I see the band live is
the fact that their gigs are so short. Rarely more than 90-100 minutes, which
compared to other bands is not that much. Then again, the performances of
Porcupine Tree are always quite intense, so maybe the average viewer would
find more than one and a half hour a bit too much. Not me though.
The band was in great shape, with Colin Edwin being his normal relaxed
self and producing some amazing sounds that I have never before heard from
a bass guitar, like the strange finger tapping and plucking in Where We
Would Be. Chris Maitland was as energetic as ever on drums and Steve
Wilson was producing the marvellous distorted heavy guitar sounds we have
come to know and love. Richard Barbieri played the usual spooky sounds,
although there was something I found a bit disturbing. Some of the less
common instruments from the new album, like for instance the banjo in
Last Chance ... came out of the speakers and seemed to be played
by Wilson on his electric guitar. Still, I doubt if he really produced
these sounds (with some kind of midi emulation ?) or if he was just playing
along. This feeling became even
stronger when I noticed that Barbieri seemed to be more busy triggering
all kinds of samples than playing keyboards. I really wonder what the band
would sound like if you would take all of Barbieri's toys away and would
give him a regular keyboard .....
The same also goes for the vocal harmonies of some of the more recent songs
like She's Moved On, Where We Would Be or Pure Narcotic.
I really have a hard time believing that Wilson and Maitland did that with
just the two of them.
As mentioned before, the atmosphere just wasn't the same as at previous gigs
I've seen the band play. The big venue and the empty stage were just part of
it. The rest became painfully clear during the 'acoustic set without the aid
of any acoustic instruments' as Wilson called it. During the three relatively
quite songs Pure Narcotic, Where We Would Be and Last Chance ...
the chatter was omnipresent around me. Besides that, people were also constantly
walking in and out the hall and the illuminated bar on the side and lights
from outside the hall didn't help either. Who are these people ? Why pay 25
guilders to see a great band and spent your time talking (and annoying others) ?
Beats me. Is this the new audience the band has attracted ? The audience
definitely seemed different from the average prog concerts. Are these the
'newbies' that saw the band live at the Dream Theater concerts ?
I don't know, but I suddenly understood what Roger Waters has always said
about Pink Floyd; how everybody would listen politely and be quiet before they
released Dark Side of the Moon and how everything changed when the
band got more popular and people just seemed to be interested in drinking
bear, eating hot dogs, lighting fireworks and shouting 'Money !' throughout
the concerts. Is this the toll of growing popularity for Porcupine Tree ?
Were the concerts at the smaller venues in March like this ?
It might seem like I really didn't enjoy myself, but that would be creating
the wrong impression. The band was brilliant and the music was great, and I
did enjoy that. Next time however, I wouldn't mind seeing them play under
somewhat different circumstances with a more attentivr audience.
Slave Called Shiver
Up The Downstair
Sleep of No Dreaming
Russia On Ice
Where We Would Be
Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled