LIVE: Steven Wilson @ The Egg, 4/19/18
Review by Mark Alexander Hudson
Steven Wilson does not want to be seen as a “prog” artist, much less a standard bearer for that much maligned musical genre. He made that clear in one of many entertaining monologues he delivered to the crowd at his return appearance at The Egg’s Hart Theatre last Thursday evening.
In introducing his latest single “Permanating” during his second set, he recognized the criticism he had received from the prog fanbase at having had the audacity to release an “unashamedly joyous pop song,” without ever actually mentioning the genre by name. Referencing The Beatles and ABBA as prime exponents of “pop,” he argued that he has never put a label on the music that he creates and that such labels are specious and meaningless anyway. If the song itself did not quite measure up to the billing – being a pleasant, danceable ditty somewhat akin to a New Radicals number produced by Pharrell – his point was well taken.
And this writer felt a twinge of recognition when Wilson good naturedly admonished the crowd for not dancing along by saying, “I know those of you wearing King Crimson and Pink Floyd t-shirts have been conditioned to not moving at concerts.” But, the fact remains that, however much Wilson may protest, his music is, at its essence, definitely more prog than pop.
The songs featured in his show at The Egg – drawn both from his solo career and from the catalog of Porcupine Tree, the band that he led for many years – were for the most part long, complex and multi-faceted. They were essayed with stunning accuracy by his fine band – longtime cohorts Nick Beggs (bass, backing vocals) and NY jazzer Adam Holzman (keyboards), in addition to newer recruits Alex Hutchings (guitar) and Craig Blundell (drums). Wilson himself handled lead vocals, as well plenty of guitar, although he left most of the extended solos to Hutchings.
In their slower more mournful moments, the music resembled no one else as much as Pink Floyd, all glacial guitar riffs and synthesizer swathes. However, when the band got its riff on and rocked out with an angular vengeance, (as they frequently did), then King Crimson chasing Nine Inch Nails down a psychedelic rabbit hole comes to mind.
Wilson cut a unique figure. Boyish, barefoot and bespectacled, his youthful appearance belied his 50 years, as if in a strange alternate universe Robert Fripp was portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe. But he was also unique in presenting such a multimedia, stunningly visual performance in intimate venues of this size. Sure, you can go to an ernomodome and witness a sprawling extravaganza by Roger Waters, for example, but here was a real “show” with fantastic back projections, animation, lights and in quad no less, at a hall like The Egg. And it is also a show based around intelligent, literate, impeccably played music that has both technical prowess and emotional heft.
Prog or pop? It’s in the ear of the beholder surely, but perhaps as Wilson says, it’s essentially a meaningless question.
STEVEN WILSON SET LIST
Intro film – Truth
Regret # 9
The Creator Has a Mastertape
People Who Eat Darkness
Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
Song of I
The Same Asylum as Before
Song of Unborn
The Sound of Muzak
The Raven That Refused to Sing