Steven Wilson - Live At The
Royal Albert Hall, Monday 28th September 2015


Nights like these two don't come along very often. Despite having a top ten album with Hand. Cannot. Erase., Steven Wilson is an unknown to most 'normal' people. However those in the know ensured this brace of dates at this grand old venue were selling faster than it takes to list all the bands Mr. Wilson is in. Having been here with Porcupine Tree it is now his turn as a solo artist with his own band of musicians.

Billed as being two very different shows night one, Monday 28th, is the Hand. Cannot. Erase. night and we take our second row seats just as the long intro film is coming to an end. Adam Holzman plays the open piano notes of First Regret and the band ease into the music that makes up Steven's latest album. The atmosphere is already electric as the band continue with 3 Years Older, after which we are informed that the first half of the show will be Hand. Cannot. Erase. played in its entirety (although Transience is still missing for some reason). Continuing with the poppy title track and the lush, dreamy Perfect Life the accompanying films play on the big screen behind the band, helping tell the story of a woman gradually becoming isolated in a big city. Steven sings with such emotion during 3 Years Older that it's the first of many tingle down the spine moments.

Steven mentions that on every date of the tour he has had to apologise for playing a backing tape for Routine due to Ninet Tayeb's absence. Well not tonight! Introducing Ninet onto the stage she looks nervous but sings the entire song with that wonderful, honeyed voice. The animation on the screen tells the story of a mother lost without her dead children as Ninet's vocals captivate. David Kilminster on guitar pulls out a gut-wrenching solo and the combination of that and Ninet heading towards the song's climax, culminating in the huge, earpiecing shriek of emotional agony sends shivers down my spine. An amazing moment that elicits a standing ovation after the song's gentle coda.

After all that emotion comes the heavy punch to the gut that is Home Invasion/Regret No. 9. It's tracks like this where the band come into their own. The songs wind through many different sections giving each musician a chance to shine. There's mad keyboard playing from Adam Holzman, mad gurning from Nick Beggs, crazy drumming from Craig and a monumental guitar solo from David. Whilst he didn't play on the album, tonight the guitarist makes the extended solo his own as the band lock together providing him the platform to show off. The slow glide of Ancestral signals the turn into the home straight and for the next thirteen minutes or so we are transported elsewhere as the band weave their magic. Ancestral gradually gathers pace. It draws the audience deeper and deeper in until there's nothing but this monolith of music. It demands your full attention and we, the audience, give it willingly.

Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Steven Wilson - Live At The Royal Albert Hall

The musicianship, as ever, is superb. Guitarist Guthrie Govan couldn't play the second half of the tour but Dave Kilminster, last seen touring with Roger Waters' production of The Wall, is a more than able replacement. Still in the band from the first leg are Nick 'Sex On Legs' Beggs on bass guitar, Chapman stick, occasional keyboards, backing vocals and silly faces, and Adam Holzman on keyboards. New drummer Craig Blundell looks like he is really enjoying himself, frequently exchanging grins and silly face pulling with Nick. The middle section of Hand. Cannot. Erase., from Routine to Ancestral demonstrates admirably the ability of the entire band. Adam's awesome keyboards, especially the squelchy jazz section at the start of Regret #9; Dave's amazing solos throughout this section; Nick's thunderous bass and inventive use of the Chapman Stick, all whilst getting lost in the music; Steven's frequent changes from one instrument to another. And they never miss a beat.

The first half comes to a close with the gentle Happy Returns and Ascendant Here On, concluding the sad tale of the protagonist dieing alone and undiscovered in her flat. I was impressed seeing Steven Wilson's performance in March at the Troxy but tonight this was much better. At that gig the Hand. Cannot. Erase. songs were interspersed with other tunes. It is such a cohesive body of work that it really benefitted from being performed uninterrupted.

After a short break, the band reappear and Steven introduces the biggest surprise and thrill of the night. Informing us that he made an album with a friend that they felt was unperformable, he introduces Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt and they prove themselves wrong by performing Drag Ropes from the Storm Corrosion album. For an unperformable song they play it very well and it's another shivers down the spine moment as the two vocalist's lines wrap around each other. The song is accompanied by a weird, disturbing animated video. Mikael takes a standing ovation, leaving the stage looking genuinely moved by the applause.

The band go straight into their proto-industrial version of Index, alternating between semi-chanted vocals and finger clicking, and violent bursts of white noise. This is followed by another real treat in the shape of Steven and Adam performing a beautifully fragile version of How Is Your Life Today? from Porcupine Tree's Lightbulb Sun album... more spine tingling!

New song My Little Book Of Regrets (surely a link between this and Regret #9) is a leftover from the last album and will be released on an ep in January, although the composition is a work in progress and hasn't yet been recorded. Steven warns us that it is long and complicated and he's not wrong as the song veers wildly through many different sections. It's hard to take in a new song debuted under such circumstances but it sounds great. Again all the musicians shine in their respective sections and it will be interesting to hear the recorded version when it is released.

Steven regails us with a tale of how Deadwing started off as a film project before the music became the Porcupine Tree album of the same name before playing Lazarus from the aforementioned album. Like the gentle breeze of a ghost passing by, the song is also, apparently, Steven's Mum's favourite too. This leads into the song that Mr Wilson says started his solo career... Harmony Korine. This gorgeous song is, as ever, accompanied by Lasse Hoille's strange 'birdmen' video and is a real favourite with the crowd, who are lapping up every song.

The ghostly screen wafts down, creating a barrier between band and audience and Bass Communion's Temporal accompanies The Watchmaker's introductory video, although being so close to the front it's impossible to see properly, although we get a close up view of the band performing, edges blurred by the curtain. Nick spookily sticks his face into the curtain right in front of us, gradually moving down... the scariest sight of the evening. The curtain remains for a stonking version of Sleep Together which builds and builds towards its climax and the band depart. They soon return to play an encore comprising of a jaunty The Sound Of Muzak, the audience singing along loudly and the inevitable, heartbreaking death ballad The Raven That Refused To Sing. If the song itself doesn't bring tears to your eyes, the song's video will.

Thus ends over two hours of music, Steven calling Ninet and Michael back onto the stage along with Lasse, the model/actress Karolina Grzybowska who appears in the Hand. Cannot. Erase. films and Jessica Cope who had previously been introduced as the lady who creates the wonderful animations that accompany some of the songs. Lighting tonight is minimal - mainly blues and reds or bright, white light, so as not to overpower the screen behind the band. Steven Wilson doesn't need fancy lighting and gimmicks - tonight proves it's the music that does the talking! Wilson himself is on fine form, talking often to the crowd joking about, among other things, about designing his signature acoustic guitar by writing 'black' on a piece of paper.

The band and guests leave the stage to well deserved rapturous applause. After such an amazing show the audience depart on a high, many looking forward to Tuesday night's performance.

Set List:First Regret / 3 Years Older / Hand Cannot Erase / Perfect Life / Routine (with Ninet Tayeb) / Home Invasion / Regret #9 / Ancestral / Happy Returns / Ascendant Here On... / Intermission / Drag Ropes (with Mikael Åkerfeldt) / Index / How Is Your Life Today? / Lazarus / My Book of Regrets / Harmony Korine / The Watchmaker / Sleep Together Encores: The Sound Of Musak / The Raven That Refused To Sing


Photos courtesy of Linda Heath / © 2015 Linda Heath

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