Porcupine Tree, April 2nd 2001
Moritzbastei, Leipzig, Germany
By Andreas Vogel
The location couldn't have been more magnificent: a subterranean, gloomy vault crouching in the basement of an age-old bastion. The building, or the remains of it, had been taken over by Leipzig students in the seventies, then cleaned and refurbished to grow to be THE students' club for miles around. So, Leipzig's Moritzbastei promised to be an appropriate venue for a band who, like those pioneering students, gain new ground for the benefit of pleasure-seeking people. Alas, the city didn't take much notice, or couldn't: one poster clinging to the wall next to the MB's ticket office and another one inside are probably not enough to make the public aware that there is something really great going to happen beneath their feet. Still, the barrel-shaped crypt gradually filled with enough people to save the event from becoming an embarrassing experience for band and fans alike. Among these fans were the editors of the region's ZeitPunkt magazine, who once rated Lightbulb Sun their 'Album of the Month' and who were obviously involved in bringing the band to town. So was prog rock fanzine Eclipsed, as I am told. Thanks for that.
Having attended the Aschaffenburg show two days before (featuring RPWL as well), I was familiar with both the stage decoration and the setlist that would probably be played. Both turned out to be exactly the same - the former being rather minimalist, which is o.k., and the latter being only altered by the fact that they left out Signify this time (which served as one of the three(!) encores in Aschaffenburg).
With some delay, the boys appeared on stage, and after the well-known intro sounds and Wilson's first gentle guitar notes, the band kicked in for a powerful rendition of Even Less. The acoustics appeared to be very good, and the walls nearly burst with the energy that emanated from the stage. Similarly powerful was the following piece Slave Called Shiver, which, unlike the original, developed some swelling momentum every time it reached the "mother I need her" part.
The band seemed to enjoy the intimacy of the venue. The stage being rather cramped, they stood or sat very close to each other. Edwin and Barbieri were exchanging grins all the time, perhaps in reaction to some insider jokes. They also gestured and grimaced at their lighting engineer who sat up in a little niche just below the vaulted ceiling at the other end of the barrel. He did a marvellous job, by the way.
After Mr. Wilson had greeted the crowd, and especially those who were new to Porcupine Tree, the band went on with one of Lightbulb Sun's highlights, Shesmovedon. Following that, Richard Barbieri, whose appearance sometimes led to ghostly John Lennon apparitions glancing through the dry ice haze, triggered a series of spooky noises. The chamber resounded with what seemed to be monks' chanting - an uncanny atmosphere arose, with the dimmed lights doing their bit. Then a soft rhythm came in, soon joined by Edwin's thrusting bass line, and the show went furiously up the downstair. Amazing.
The band returned to their latest album and played its title track, followed by the brilliant Last Chance..., and the even more brilliant Russia on Ice. The show then calmed down for a couple of songs, for an acoustic set which of course wasn't one. Mr. Wilson brought about a funny moment, when he, only a few chords into Pure Narcotic, suddenly stopped playing and exclaimed "This is totally out of tune!". To the delight of drummer Maitland, who laughed out loudly from behind his drums, Wilson had to tune up his guitar. Where we would be then displayed some of Edwin's masterful bass playing - mellow, humming sounds which gave the song a downright mesmerizing quality.
When Wilson started to introduce "Porcupine Tree's antidote against the familiar lovesong by Britney Spears and her like", Edwin took great pleasure in interrupting him with run-like-hellish guitar bits. Wilson: "Oh, shut up! I know you've heard that before, but they haven't." He waved his hand at the audience, and Edwin produced a broad smile. Come to that, this man seems to have a waggish smile playing around the corners of his mouth all the time. Funny chap. However, he went on with what was to become a remarkable performance of the truly lovely Hatesong.
Steven Wilson was in great shape as well, musically speaking (It always strikes me how much of a musician can live in a body so lean and meagre...). His playing does not involve what one might call an exaggerated facial mobility, and what's more, his eye-concealing, stylish dark glasses nourish a certain air of unapproachableness. And yet, there's still a lot of vibes and energy radiating from Wilson's presence and voice. He's a professional, but a relaxed one. Those in the first rows could see that he was standing bare-footed on a little multicoloured carpet, touching pedals with his toes every now and then, which obviously changed the sound of his guitar. Wilson appears to play his instrument just like that, in passing, seemingly listless at times, but always precise. Only when the music gathers speed, strength, or emotional impetus does one actually *see* that his playing is in fact very passionate. Later that evening, he treated his guitar with so much passion that a string snapped, suddenly whipping about him.
The last song of the main set was the marvellous Tinto Brass, which once again had the walls vibrate with bone-crunching sound. After the band had pretended to have finished up with the show for the first time, the cheering crowd brought them back to the stage to go on with Voyage 34, which, when played live, is capable of inducing a psychedelic flow without the aid of any chemicals. The mass became addicted right away, and wanted more, applauding, whistling, shouting. The band returned once again to please them with their classic Radioactive Toy, which was a treat as always. During the final chords of the song, Chris "Portnoy, part II" Maitland went berserk. Under frantically flashing lights, he whirled about his drums in a wild frenzy, almost crushing them to bits and pieces. Wilson turned in bewilderment, and his covered eyes surely wondered "Will he stop, or won't he?". With a final bang, he did stop in the end - a phenomenal conclusion to Maitland's terrific performance, and to a really fine show.
Slave Called Shiver
Up The Downstair
Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled
Russia On Ice
Where We Would Be