Steven Wilson: Montreal, Canada, April 25, 2013
Like Bond, Paul Vd Heijk was also back to handle the lighting and rear projection screen. He may not have appeared to be doing much during the show, but that's because he'd programmed his lighting to synch with backing tracks which provided additional vocals and instrumentation to the group, allowing for a more accurately reproduction of the recordings' rich sound worlds. Van de Heijk did do "live" lighting in a couple of instances, but for the most part, his work was done in pre-production and during the setup in each venue, rendering his task, during the actual show, as more of a monitor to ensure nothing went wrong (it didn't). The lighting, combining floor lights that travel with the band in concert with whatever lighting the venue provides (and it's different every night, he says), was superbbold at times, more subtle at othersand, combined with background images including Hajo Müller's artwork from the Deluxe Edition of The Raven, and Lasse Hoile's video imagery from Grace for Drowning, the show was as compelling to see as it was to hear.
Wilson used programmed backing tracks that included a lot of layered vocals, many coming from the back of hall speakers that provided a surround sound experience for the audience. There are those that frown upon such use but, in truth, this is not uncommon practiceeven in the jazz world, where guitarist Pat Metheny regularly used both backing and, for his band, guide tracks in the monitors when he toured with Pat Metheny. While it might seem that such tracks could detract from the spontaneity of Wilson's performance, nothing could be further from the truth: this is absolutely a live bandone which may follow strict compositional and arrangement road maps from night to night, but which, within those confines, interprets the songs differently at each and every performance.
Wilson's voice seemed stronger than in 2011, and he was far more engaged with the audience, speaking far more often to them between songs. As always, Wilson's vocal delivery was about the words and not the kind of melisma that now pervades pop music. As a guitarist and keyboardist, Wilson may not be on the same level as his band mates, but when he did solo, as he did on a particularly beautiful version of Grace for Drowning's "Deform to Form a Star," it was with faultless taste, and has been raised by association. He may not possess his band's instrumental sophistication but, during an afternoon coffee hang with Travis, Hoizman and Beggs, all three musicians were quick to point out that, yes, they're all strong players, but without Wilson's writing, the band would simply not be what it is, as it continues to evolve and expand its purview. Holzman made a particularly important point when he explained how, by the time the second or third week of a tour rolls around, bands more often than not feel like they've reached the pinnacle and there's not a whole lot more to say; with this band, already well into the tour, the same degree of excitement and sense of discovery continues to happen, each and every night.
That this is not just a bunch of pickup musicians but a real band is what makes its live performances often surpass the studio originals. Admittedly, they're two different beastsand with The Raven there's a closer proximity, since it was recorded old school, the band laying down one track, live off the studio floor, each day for six days, with legendary engineer Alan Parsons at the board, rather than today's norm of sending files around to musicians who may be together on an album but never actually play together. The 25 minute-plus "Raider II," inspired by the infamous BTK serial killer, has evolved into something far more intense and nightmarish than the studio version, while The Raven's closing title track, which also ended the main part of the show, has become more dramatic, more symphonic, andwith Müller's video imagery relaying its story of an old man whose sister died when he was young and, as he reaches the end of a life scarred by the event, tries to compel a raven in the woods to sing as his sister did when he was a childeven more heartbreaking.