Porcupine Tree, Adom
Saturday 8th March
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, UK

By Charlie Farrell

Porcupine Tree return to play first UK gigs since signing to Lava Records

It seems absolutely ages since Porcupine Tree played London. In fact it is just slightly short of two years since they completed their Spring 2001 Tour at this very same venue. On that occasion they were supported by Rothko and Anathema, but this time it is singer/songwriter Theo Travis and Adom, an American outfit from Atlanta, Georgia.

I didn't arrive in time for Theo Travis having not noticed the very early start time on my ticket, but I was there in time to catch the full set from Adom. Now based in the UK and signed to Storm Music of Manchester, the band have their debut, Richard Barbieri produced album Idiot Savant due for release in May. Their 40-minute set encompassed 6 or 7 tunes from the album including their new single Down and their own 'hate-song' starcrossd. With a sound that mixes light industrial samples with angsty post-rock, they invoke the usual comparisons with Radiohead and Coldplay and though their material is pleasant enough, on this evening's performance it lacks a real cutting edge.

After a long interval, the venue's lighting dips slightly and an instrumental version of Even Less begins to play over the P.A. It proves to be a lengthy false dawn but eventually the lighting drops further and the crowd erupts in cheers as Porcupine Tree (supplemented by former Fish sidesman John Wesley) take their places on stage. Blackest Eyes proves to be as loud and invigorating an opening number on stage as it does on disk and the band waste no time in following it with the superb, and no less powerful Sound of Muzak, also from In Absentia.

Now signed to a major label, the band have ditched the cheesy 70's pyschadaelic back projections which used to make up the extent of their 'stage-set' in favour of some extreemly gloomy slides, based on the In Absentia artwork. These are fortunately enlivened by special effects which allow video of the band members to be projected onto the same screens. The camera close-ups more than make up for the fact that I can barely see the musicians themselves from behind the giant who has chosen to stand right in front of me.

As Steven Wilson himself explains, "There have been a lot of changes since we last played London. A new Record label etc.". Another cut from In Absentia follows before they move on to the Stupid Dream disk for the tremendously powerful Even Less and A slave called Shiver which both see the band playing lengthy instrumental passages. The additional guitar playing and backing vocals provided by John Wesley certainly beef up the band's overall sound and as the second of these numbers comes to an end, Steven Wilson finally introduces the axeman to the crowd. Big cheers from what appears to be the Fish fanclub, greet the announcement moving Steven to question the crowd "Are you sure that you're not on the way to a football match?"

Following a further track from In Absentia, the band then revisit their back-catalogue, plucking a couple of tracks from Lightbulb Sun, a mournful Stop Swimming from Stupid Dream and then after a less than smooth transition, a wonderful Waiting. A then rather disgusted Steven Wilson, announced "For this tour, we have these In Absentia plectrums.". "They're crap!" he declares flicking the last one he had available into the audience, much to the crowd's amusement and causing a roadie to rush onstage and replenish his supply.

"This is about as industrial as we get" he continued as the band returned to In Absentia for the final part of the set. The Creator has a Mastertape was followed by an astonishingly beautiful rendition of Heart Attack in a Layby, with John Wesley again shining on backing vocals and the set climaxed with an aggressive Strip The Soul.

The obligatory encores followed, with the band dipping further into the past for Dark Matter and a powerful Tinto Brass (performed without the assistance of John Wesley). The crowd cheered, but one was still left feeling slightly unfulfilled. The set had been performed almost flawlessly and one could not argue with the selection of songs, heavily weighted as it was towards material from the excellent In Absentia, but all the same, the emotional impact of previous gigs was somehow missing. One hopes that the improved staging and special effects coupled with several months of touring with this album in the USA, have not removed the element of unpredictability from the band altogether.

god's busy in the backroom

Porcupine Tree
Blackest Eyes
The Sound of Muzak
Gravity Eyelids
Even Less
Slave Called Shiver
Wedding Nails
Last Chance to Evacuate Earth
Stop Swimming
The Creator has a Mastertape
Heart Attack in a Layby
Strip The Soul

Dark Matter
Tinto Brass


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2003 DPRP