Steven Wilson: Montreal, Canada, November 15, 2011
It was, indeed, a loud show, but the sound was remarkably clear, and if there were some nearly ear-bleeding momentslike the Insurgentes encore, "Get All You Deserve," for which Wilson returned to the stage in CD cover's gas mask and built the music from near-silence to an eardrum-shattering climax over an unrelenting layer of white noise emanating from speakers placed at the back of the hallthere was also plenty of respite. Grace's "Deform to Form a Star" is one of Wilson's most flat-out beautiful songs, and livesporting greater dynamics and fine guitar solos from both Wilson and Wesleyit was an early highlight in a set that never wavered as it moved from high point to high point over the course of two-plus hours.
Whether he was wandering the stage, fixed in front of a center stage microphone with his guitar, or seated and almost invisible behind a keyboard, Wilson remained a charismatic front man who never failed to acknowledge the players around him as, following the encore, each of the band members joined him front and center for an individual bow, their names written across the rear projection screen. The show was absolutely under Wilson's control, but he afforded plenty of flexibility for his mates to bring their own individual voices to his structures and sound worlds, rendering the performance as interpretation rather than duplication. Minnemann was simply stunning, even capturing small figures from the albums, but giving them a personal twist; some were feats of physicality that would have seemed impossible were they not there for the eyes to see. Whether on bass or Stick, Beggs combined his unshakable ear for groove with a virtuosity that, based on his recent touring work with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, should have been no surprise, but still came unexpectedly in the middle of "Raider II," where he doubled a relentlessly fast line with Wilson with the same effortless execution as Minnemann.
If Wilson has become the remix "go-to guy," Travis has, in the past decade, emerged as woodwind player of choice for everyone from Gong and The Tangent to Soft Machine Legacy and Crimson's Robert Fripp. While his engaging work in this area has, out of necessity, slowed down the jazz-centric output of solo records like Double Talk (33 Jazz, 2007), his improvising duo with Fripp, last heard on Live at Coventry Garden (Panegyric, 2010) remains an ongoing concern as they prepare a new studio recording (with Wilson mixing for both stereo and 5.1 surround) for release in 2012. Live, Travis makes the case for progressive rock's connection to jazz, his lithe lyricism and soaringly cathartic contributions living in a space where the line between these two genres isn't so much blurred as non-existent.
From left: Nick Beggs, Marco Minnemann, Steven Wilson, Adam Holzman, Theo Travis
Despite being largely out of the spotlight, Wesley was as essential here as he is when functioning as Porcupine Tree's on-tour fifth member. The guitarist was all the more impressive given the circumstances of his joining Wilson for this tour, replacing original guitarist Aziz Ibrahim who, after playing the European dates, was denied entry into the USa sorry reflection of the times, given he's British-born and raised, but Muslim and of Pakistani descent. Wesley not only had to learn a full evening's worth of music in just a few days, he had to adopt the myriad textures that were as fundamental as the actual notes being played. Holzman is better known in the jazz world for his work with trumpeters Miles Davis in the 1980s and, later, Wallace Roney on recordings including Prototype (HighNote, 2004), and while there was no mistaking the root of some of his voicings at the start of songs like "No Twilight," it was clear that, like Travis, the keyboardist was clearly working from a broader musical and textural palette.