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
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
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
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