* Prices may differ from that shown
The long-awaited new live DVD by UK rock group Porcupine Tree has just been released. It was actually filmed in October 2008, but due to delays (recording a new album & touring it!) it's only just been let out. Filmed in High Definition visual and audio over two nights at Tilburg in Holland, these concerts were played after the main tour for their 2007 album Fear of a Blank Planet (FOABP) had finished, specifically for the purpose of being filmed. We saw them twice on the tour, and this brings back some great memories.
The resulting film is being released in three formats. I have the absolute bog-standard single DVD which has a choice of high-quality stereo or HD DTS surround sound; there was a special edition for collectors available to pre-order, which came in two alternative book formats and contained this version of the DVD, a Blu-Ray version, and a 2CD set of the audio from the gigs. The pre-sale for these sold out very fast indeed, and some will doubtless turn up for silly money on eBay at some point in the near future, once they've shipped. There will also be a Blu-Ray plus standard DVD release soon. Confusing, but what PT fans have come to expect as normal!
The standard DVD, which is now available (I pre-ordered my copy online direct from the band's shop), comes in a super-jewel case within a cardboard slip-case, with artwork to complement the cover of FOABP. The single disc has a very simple menu, no extras, but it's pretty important to check the audio setup as the default is the surround setting, so if you're listening in stereo as we are, you'll be hearing nothing at all if you don't switch it to stereo! This then takes you straight to the setlist, and you can either choose to start from the beginning, or make your own choice of track.
The concert starts with a full performance of FOABP, and after a short break continues with an excellent setlist of material from several of their other albums. The running time is 130 minutes, and this is the full setlist:
2. Fear of a Blank Planet
3. My Ashes
6. Way Out of Here
7. Sleep Together
8. What Happens Now?
10. Dark Matter
11. Drown With Me
12. Cheating the Polygraph
15. Wedding Nails
16. Strip the Soul / Dot Three
17. Sleep of No Dreaming
The band are Steven Wilson on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, Colin Edwin on basses, Richard Barbieri (formerly of Japan) on keyboards and various effects, Gavin Harrison on percussion, with John Wesley as the touring fifth member of the band on backing vocals and guitar. The band have been around in one form or another since 1987, but have only really begun to get public recognition over the last decade or so. Their sound has moved from psychedelic through space rock, to a brief fling with rock, followed by melodic, thoughtful pop, then back to heavy, melodic, prog-tinged rock, which is where we find them in this recording.
The first part of the concert, as I said earlier, features a full rendition of their 2007 release Fear of a Blank Planet. The album was based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel Lunar Park, which gave both the songs and their accompanying visuals the theme of troubled teenagers, particularly with reference to the apparent increasing culture in North America of kids being put on medication at any suggestion of mental stress. To be honest, the album isn't my favourite of theirs, musically speaking, and although their performance is excellent, it doesn't really begin to grab me until track 5, Sentimental, when it picks up for me on the album too. Somehow it's not melodically diverse enough for my taste up 'til then. Sentimental, however marks a change in mood and cohesion between the pieces of what is a concept album (hence the complete performance). The destructive frustration of the teens turns increasingly to desperation, which seems to drive a greater creativity in the way the musical arrangements are made.
Way Out Of Here and Sleep Together are Steven Wilson's favourite tracks on the album and it shows in the performance. Way Out Of Here is one of my top PT tracks ever, and contains my favourite Wilson guitar solo. It's a track that is performed perfectly live, and I have to admit to it being a song that I have to listen to on headphones as it has to be almost so loud that it hurts my ears! As well as the wonderful guitar solo, Gavin Harrison's trademark syncopated drumming, Richard Barbieri's synth work, and Colin Edwin's bass all come together in a real tour-de-force track. Sleep Together, a song which refers to the disappearance of a number of the teenagers in the book, suspected of some sort of suicide pact, is a massive set-ender, with its dramatic chorus, driving beat, and building crescendo of sound including the orchestral section from the studio recording. Top moment for me is Wilson headbanging over the keyboards, partly keeping time (they enjoy using diverse time signatures) and partly just wigging out.
Part two, after a bizarre brief interval consisting of a still black and white image of the band sat in their dressing room, begins with What Happens Now, one of three tracks in the set from the 'left-overs' EP Nil Recurring which appeared a short while after FOABP (the others being Normal and Cheating The Polygraph). In fact, the EP was a perfect bridge between that album and the next (The Incident, which I've reviewed previously), as the musical style returned to a more melodic heavy rock with a greater progressive influence. What Happens Now, another huge favourite of mine is a soaringly atmospheric modern prog epic. Normal is a sister track to Sentimental, sharing some lyrics, but the music is heavier, despite a Tull-inspired acoustic riff.
I could go through this track by track, but you'd probably get fed with me saying how fantastic each track is, so instead I'll summarise. There are three other albums represented here, which are Signify from 1996 (Dark Matter, Sever, Sleep Of No Dreaming), In Absentia from 2002 (Wedding Nails, Strip The Soul / Dot Three, and Drown With Me which is a non-album track from that era), and Deadwing from 2005 (Halo, and non-album track Half Light). A lot happened between 1996 and 2002, they had their pop-rock phase and there were several releases, but Signify was a slightly heavier album and this seems to have been the general sound that they were after with this set. All together, the songs complement each other brilliantly, showcasing the excellent musicianship of the band and Wilson's expert song-writing and arrangement skills.
The lighting and projections complement the show very well indeed, and the filming and editing is fascinating. Maybe it cuts about a little too much at times, but each member of the band is given equal coverage. There are some great shots through between band members, from underneath and above the drums, great shots also of Richard Barbieri on the keys working his magic - nice to see him smiling and looking relaxed for a change!
The most animated person on stage as usual is Steven Wilson, band leader, writer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, headbanger, always a charismatic presence, but due to the editing of the film not the dominant character of the footage. Great to see a concert DVD which genuinely lets each member of the band, including unofficial 5th member John Wesley, shine.
The sound balance is something which I'm a little under-qualified to comment on, since it will be biased to a 5.1 enthused audience. I've found that watching it on the TV, with our non-DTS decoding DVD player, that Wilson's guitar is a little distant in the reproduction. However through the computer, I suspect it's using the DTS layer as his guitar is right at the front, despite it still being stereo. This puzzles me, but I'll blame our cheap DVD player. We used to have a lovely 5.1 DTS / DVD-A player but it bit the dust, so we're still sadly lacking in the audiophile department, which for a devoted PT fan is unforgivable... I'm still waiting for comments on the quality of the single disc surround mix to surface, as most of the hardened fans bought the deluxe edition, which isn't actually due to ship until the beginning of June due to production delays with the Blu-Ray disc. However, as I stated in the 'advantages', it has a great audio track, and it's probably the best audio recording of a live performance that I've heard in a long while! Steven Wilson is an audiophile, which is something that fans can only benefit from.
This live DVD is very highly recommended. It is currently available new from Amazon at £10.49, apparently the RRP is £13.99. It's worth noting though that it's £8.99 plus postage from the artists' store at Burning Shed ( http://www.burningshed.com/store/porcupinetree/product/169/2135/ ). More of the profits from the sale go to the artists if you buy from there, if that's something that you are concerned about. I've bought from them many times and have found them to be very helpful and reliable.
If you like your rock ranging from tender atmospheric ballads (Half Light) to euphoric semi-metal instrumentals (Wedding Nails), with a tinge of progressive rock thrown in, then this is for you. More serious than Muse, more metal than Radiohead, they sit in a fairly unique place where only a devoted cult following had found them until fairly recently. I love 'em :-))