It takes a certain ability to be able to appreciate everything British musician Steven Wilson brings to his multiple projects — from Porcupine Tree to Blackfield to No-Man to IEM — but whenever he's in town, the fans show up in droves.
That’s exactly what happened at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles on May 10, when he performed with his solo band.
As posh as the venue is (It's part of LA Live in the immediate vicinity of the Staples Center), it still makes for an intimate setting. It’s no wonder Wilson prefers to play here when he's in LA; in terms of sound quality, I don’t think there’s a better venue for rock/metal in the city.
The stage and the atmosphere were set for a full-on Steven Wilson live experience.
As there was no support act in this "evening with" show, the doors opened at 8 p.m., and the evening’s proceedings began with an intro video at around 8:35 p.m. The backdrop screen showed an image of the moon similar to the one on the cover of Wilson's latest solo album, The Raven That Refused To Sing, with clouds slowly moving across it on screen and in the form of stage fog. As the clock went past 9 p.m., the video faded away and the band appeared on stage, led by Wilson.
What transpired over the next two and a half hours was a stunning musical exhibition that displayed all of Wilson’s talents, and then some. He brought on a much different on-stage personality and energy throughout this performance as compared to shows with Porcupine Tree.
His multi-instrumental prowess couldn't be missed as he sang, donned electric and acoustic guitars and handled piano and computer samples. In terms of the set list, he and his band played the new album in its entirety, plus selections from his last two solo albums. The focus on solo material was apt for this evening, and only during the encore did Wilson reference Porcupine Tree, ending the show with "Radioactive Toy" amidst loud cheers.
That said, it wasn’t a one-man show by any means. When Wilson picks a group of musicians to tour with him, he doesn’t mess around. Guitarist Guthrie Govan was a bonus for all attendees. Chad Wackerman was a beast on the drums, as mentioned by Wilson several times during the show. Nick Beggs on bass and Chapman Stick, Theo Travis on saxophone and flute and Adam Holtzman on keyboards rounded out this incredible band.
Even though the entire new album was performed, it wasn’t as if the crowd was waiting for older material. Wilson’s music is so twisted and unconventional, the song sometimes doesn’t even matter. The evening was a musical story with 14 chapters, all of which seemed connected to each other, following a progression of sorts.
In between some of these chapters, Wilson shared some great anecdotes. His audience interaction was nothing short of hilarious, as he briefly described the stories behind "Postcard," "Harmony Korine" and "Raider II"; made fun of an Amazon.com review of his album and made snide remarks about the traditional "Free Bird" joke.
A sizeable portion of the evening’s latter half was played with the projection screen in front of the band, something I'd never seen before. It was a unique way of combining music and theater, with tunes such as "The Watchmaker" being enhanced tenfold by a slide of images taking the foreground even as the band continued on playing the music.
I should mention that the set included plenty of downright heavy moments, making it a truly diverse show capable of pleasing fans of heavy and mellow music.
This tour has come to an end, but the next time Wilson comes around for a solo tour, I suggest all music lovers try to attend. My advice would be to do so in a completely sober state of mind, like I did, because this exhibition is extremely mind-bending. Any further alteration of the mind would be pointless and dangerous.
For more information on Wilson and his projects, visit stevenwilsonhq.com.