Steven Wilson at the Hammersmith ApolloCultureMusicLive music
Despite headlining two sold-out shows at the Royal Albert Hall a mere five months ago, Steven Wilson was back in London to play at the Hammersmith Apollo. Performing what can only be described as a three-hour opus, the former Porcupine Tree frontman was described by one audience member as being “on the form of his life”: prog rock isn’t dead, it just has a new leader, and that man is the outstandingly talented Steven Wilson.
As the last notes of 12-minute set opener First Regret/3 Years fade into the aether, Steven sits down and gives a polite breakdown of what to expect for the next three hours. Like a sommelier gushing over his favourite wines, he describes how the show will consist of two halves: the first, 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase in its entirety. The record that has brought him so much success in his solo career, is even better live. Each song, bafflingly complex in its arrangements, played with consummate ease to the baying crowd. Sure, the majority of his audience will probably be travelling home on a free bus pass, but they don’t care, as Steven’s infectious enthusiasm gives them new life. Before long, air guitars are being played everywhere as the nine-minute instrumental nightmare that is Routine rolls off the set-list. Backed up by guitarist Dave Kilminster, fresh from his stint playing lead guitar in Roger Water’s The Wall, the sound is nothing short of exquisite. As Happy Returns/Ascendent Here On finishes in a blaze of melodic fury, a realisation creeps in that an album that is supposedly 65 minutes from start to end has passed by in a flash. Intermission. A chance for the audience to catch their breath.
The second half brings out the hit-machine, as Steven tells the crowd that he’ll be playing “a little bit of stuff from the new record, and a little bit of stuff from my other projects”. He is remarkably jovial all evening, from calling out Steve Rothery of Marillion as he tries to sneak in late, to the usual jokes and quips to the audience: “If you came to the Royal Albert Hall show, I’m afraid to say it’s the same s***,” he says. He has the confidence of a man who genuinely enjoys his music. This isn’t the often-witnessed play-the-setlist-and-get-out kind of show that more contemporary artists adhere to. One feels he would happily stay and play all night if he could. The crowd certainly want him too, as Porcupine Tree classics are generously littered throughout the second half. Open Car reminds them what Wilson is capable of, as the darker, progressive metal sound is unleashed upon the audience. But they love it, thrashing along, injected with a new sense of youth not felt since the days of Pink Floyd and Tool. The finale, The Raven that Refused to Sing, is a song so beautifully melodic, it isn’t surprising tears are shed.
As the crowd filters home, there’s a sense of optimism. “Shows like that remind me that there are proper musicians still out there,” quips one leather-clad older gentleman on his way to the underground. After tonight’s performance, it’s hard to disagree.
Photos: Rodrigo Diaz (featured), David Cabrera (gallery)
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Watch the video for Routine here: