Porcupine Tree, March 15th 2001
013, Tilburg, The Netherlands

By Ed Sander


Porcupine Tree

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 money !".

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 Tree.
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.

Setlist:

Even Less
Slave Called Shiver
Shesmovedon
Up The Downstair
Sleep of No Dreaming
Lightbulb Sun
Russia On Ice
Pure Narcotic
Where We Would Be
Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled
Hatesong
Tinto Brass

Voyage 34

Signify

 

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