Steven Wilson - Live At The Troxy
17th March 2015

In 33 years of gig-going I have missed six gigs through illness. Four of those have been Steven Wilson's. Consequently tonight's hometown show is the first time I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr Wilson live. I was starting to feel jinxed so there's an ambulance out back and the London Hospital is only a short blue light dash away in Whitechapel. The Troxy is a lovely little venue inside, all art deco and cosy which belies the shabby nature of the Commercial Road, where it is to be found.

Shortly after taking our seats the big screen behind the band's equipment flickers into life with scenes of inner city vistas... birds, flowing water, traffic, concrete conurbations, all accompanied by the subtle sound of children playing. As the film continues the house lights gradually dim and the film focuses on a block of flats. Shot in timelapse, darkness slowly falls and various windows are lit and go dark again. The sound of the children is gradually replaced by the extended intro of First Regret and one by one the band take to the stage.

Such a long introduction allows the atmosphere to build until they are all assembled and the opening keyboard chords of 3 Years Older ring out. The band launch into the song with Steven's acoustic strumming and Guthrie's electric playing as the band lock tight together. Nick Begg's bass gently vibrates the floor as he and Marco provide rock solid rhythms as the song ebbs and flows. Steven's vocals are strong and Mr Beggs provides wonderful backing vocals. The song is played note perfect but with an openess that only a live setting can provide and the interplay between guitar and keybords as lead instrument is stunning.

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Given that the tour is in support of his latest album, it is no surprise that most of Hand. Cannot. Erase. is played tonight. In fact only Transient is missing from the setlist. Throughout the opening section the film on the screen is of Karolina Grzybowska, the model used on the album cover and packaging. The film shows her playing the role of the album's protagonist living out her life and is beautifully and subtly shot. The visuals really enhance the songs' narrative as they echo the lyrics and give further insight into the ideas behind the album's concept. Music, film and lighting combine so well that it's easy to be sucked into the protagonist's life and the title track shows us more of her ordinary life. So catchy, Hand. Cannot. Erase. is wonderfully played and eases gently into Pefect Life with its spoken word section and Massive Attack style electronic beats until Steven's dreamy vocals take over, again excellently underpinned by Nick's gorgeous falsetto backing.

Before Routine Steven explains that he wanted Ninet to come on tour to provide the female vocals she added to the album. Unfortunately she has just had a baby so, short of Nick Beggs having an operation the only way to perform the song is using her recorded version, contained on one of Adam's Apple Mac's. This also applies to the choirboys' singing and it turns out the soloist is Tony Blair's son Leo. The visual accompaniment for this song is an animated puppet mother acting out the songs lyrics. Her eyes red from crying, the animation gives a big insight into what the song is really about (which I won't spoil here). We reach the point where Guthrie's solo kicks in and, not for the last time tonight, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I get shivers down my spine. He has the most amazingly emotive playing style and his lead playing and solos are sublime, a fact Steven obviously recognises as he sticks mostly to acoustic and rhythm guitar tonight.

There's a break from the current album as the band play a revamped version of Index. They put an interesting spin on the song, starting as a monotone spoken word piece complete with finger clicking along to the rhythm before a burst of industrial-strength noise signals the rest of the band joining in as the song veers into slightly more familiar territory. It's a brave and interesting take on the song, after which we return to current music with the menacing Home Invasion, with it's eerie keyboard motif and juddering, staccato rhythm. A long song, the band take its twists and turns on effortlessly. Punctuated by Adam's squelchy Hammond sounds and atmospheric effects the song drives on, via Steven's heavily distorted vocals, colliding with the instrumental Regret #9 and another stunning Guthrie solo as he wrenches amazing noises out of his guitar. This is the second chills-down-the-spine moment of the night.

These two songs demonstrate how incredible this band is. The on-stage chemistry and interplay between the musicians is something to witness. The entire band are masters of their instruments. Nick Beggs switches between bass guitar and Chapman stick and most of the time looks lost in the music. Completing the rhythm section Marco is a superb drummer, powerful but subtle. Steven switches instruments frequently - electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and he even plays bass on one song and keyboard player Adam has a mountain of instruments and technology at his disposal but plays like a manic maestro. As already mentioned Guthrie Govan is a superb, astonishingly fluid guitarist.

Steven delves into his extensive catalogue of music with a nice version of Porcupine Tree's Lazarus and Harmony Korine, complete with Lasse Hoile's disturbing visuals. One of my favourite of Mr Wilson's solo songs it crawls gorgeously and breathlessly slowly until the harmonious chorus, building into a wall of noise as strange, bird-headed people dance uneasily on the screen behind the band. Returning to the finalé of Hand. Cannot. Erase., Ancestral is astonishing. We are lucky enough for the band to be joined on stage by Theo Travis, for one night only as he isn't a member of the band on this tour, who provides accompaniment on both flute and saxophone to this and following songs. Karolina returns to the screen for the climax of the set. As the band progress through the many different sections of the song we are drawn once more into her lonely world. Again Guthrie's solo sends shivers down the spine as he wrings emotion out of his guitar. Happy Returns and the short instrumental Ascedent Here On... end the set as the images on screen fade to white, although we are still no clearer on the woman's fate.

The band depart for a short break during which a screen descends across the front of the stage and The Watchmaker film plays across it, masking the band as they return, leading us through the mournful tale of love and loss. An achingly beautiful song the band allow the subtleties to shine through, even though the band are hazy figures behind the screen full of spinning clockwork. Again, Theo weaves his magnificent magic throughout the song. This is followed by a second Porcupine Tree song, Fear Of A Blank Planet's Sleep Together, easily the heaviest song of the evening ending in that familiar cacophony of sound.

The band depart again to huge applause but the screen drops and they return quickly. Steven dedicates the final song of the evening to Gong's Daevid Allen, who has just died, as well as his own father and the gentle piano strains of The Raven Who Refused To Sing fill the venue. Steven's voice is full of emotion as he imparts this ghostly tale... a wonderful way to end the evening. The band receive a standing ovation from an emotionally drained audience most of whom are marvelling at the performance we have just witnessed.

Despite the fact the Steven Wilson is touring fairly small venues (for someone who has previously sold out both the Hammersmith Odeon and the Albert Hall) he certainly didn't stint on the production values. Lighting for the show generally consists of nice washes of bright colour with the occasional spotlight highlighting when someone is playing a solo and the screen at the back is almost constantly in use, making this more of a show rather than just a gig. Steven is on good form tonight, at ease on stage and bantering with members of the audience on a couple of occasions. All in all, a truly special evening's entertainment. Somehow I survived my first encounter with a 'solo' Mr Wilson and the ambulance was stood down. I look forward to my next live encounter with this musical genius and his band.

Set List: First Regret / 3 Years Older / Hand Cannot Erase / Perfect Life / Routine / Index / Home Invasion / Regret #9 / Lazarus / Harmony Korine / Ancestral / Happy Returns / Ascendant Here On... Encores: The Watchmaker / Sleep Together / The Raven That Refused To Sing

Photo by Lasse Hoile | Live Photos by Carl Glover

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