October 17th, 2005
Last Thursday night my girlfriend and I headed east to Milwaukee to see Porcupine Tree at The Rave. It was to be my third time seeing them and her first. She wasn’t particularly familiar with the Tree’s music – only the odd song – and it was to be her first progressive rock concert. Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame would be opening. Neither of us had ever been to The Rave and all I’d heard about the joint was that it was a horrible venue. And it was. Security was tight, drinks were egregiously expensive, and the sounds was not very good, especially with the vocals being lost in the mix. Still, any Tree show is a good show, in my book.
We arrived to find a crowd gathered in front of the stage. Looking around, my girlfriend noticed a few familiar faces from Madison. Most notable was Biff Blumfumgagnge of Reptile Palace Orchestra, The Gomers, and countless other bands. He was at the mixing desk, oddly enough. (After the show, I learned that he helped out Fripp on his latest album, Love Cannot Bear, and has been doing sound for him on his current tour.) Bob Fripp took the stage on time, presumably, and gave the crowd a smattering of his soundscapes. His soundscapes are improvised minimalist songs – washes of sounds culled from his MIDI-enabled guitar. I’ve heard a few of them in my time and, to be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan. A few bits here and there caught my attention but none of Fripp’s soundscape albums have made their way into my collection. I have great admiration for his talents so I’ll give anything he does a listen as, regardless of what he does, he always does something interesting and has no use for trends, be they musical or otherwise. As he played, slides were projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. Some were of landscapes while others were of Fripp and his fellow bandmates through the years. My girlfriend, The Dulcinea, remarked how it was interesting to see pictures of him as a lad in the late 1960s and then to see more recent ones – to see how he’s changed over the years. As for the music, I think she was rather impressed. For my part, I enjoyed the last piece he played. It just had more dynamics, more moods to it than the other pieces. After the intermission, a song came out of the PA (it wasn’t “Revenant” this time around) and surreal images were put up on the screen. The band took the stage to an enthusiastic greeting and opened their set with “Open Car” from their latest, Deadwing. Live, the song gained muscle and became something more than a very heavy pop song which is how the songs comes across on the album. It was a surprisingly great opening and they never let up from there. Here’s the setlist:
Don’t Hate Me
Mother and Child Divided
Buying New Soul
So Called Friend
Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
Heart Attack in a Layby
Start of Something Beautiful
Unlike a lot of fans, I think “Lazarus” works well live and provides a nice break from the heaviness of the rest of the set with its catchy chorus and delicate piano work. Unfortunately, the sounds was pretty terrible so the vocals were extremely muddled. “Don’t Hate Me” was great too and I was glad they played it as they’d never done so the previous times I’d seen them. “Mellotron Sratch” is a song that is really growing on me with its plaintive drum machine and decidedly non-screaming guitar work. Plus the Beach Boys-like harmonies at the end are a neat touch that come off well live despite only two singers. My complaint is that the Mellotron sound was buried somewhere in the mix. At Shank Hall earlier this year, it was right up front encompassing and enfolding you in the voices as it should. When I hear that sound, I want it to feel wrapped inside it, not hear it from one side in the background. Two songs left off of Deadwing (with one available on the DVD-A and the other as a single B-side) were played: “So Called Friend” and “Mother and Child Divided”. The latter is a very heavy instrumental and it kicked ass, if I may say so! I mean, it has this gurgling bass which made my body reverberate. The drums are played off the beat and, coupled with the angular guitar part, it has this odd, hectic, disconcerting feel to it. “Buying New Soul”, from the B-side & rarities compilation, Recordings, was a treat. “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” is fast becoming a classic. The opening bit has a very insistent and very anxious feel to it which is relieved by some heavy metal towards the end. Yeah, I did some headbanging. I don’t know about The Dulcinea, but I really wanted to move. I closed my eyes and just let the noise get inside me. The set ended with “Halo”, a blatantly catchy tune. It was odd to hear the many folks in the crowd singing the chorus as this is a bit of a rarity at progressive rock concerts. It was also nice to see quite a few younger people there too. To be sure, there were plenty of old fogies as there always are at prog concerts but the band have managed to garner some young folk into their audience. And I always used to be the youngest person at prog concerts. I guess I’m getting old. For the encores, they pulled “Radioactive Toy” out of retirement, which was neat. The show ended with “Trains” and a good chunk of us did the clapping part in the middle.
While the sound was disappointing, the performance was great. Drummer Gavin Harrison impresses me more and more. That guy rides the splash cymbal at just the right time. He reminds me of King Crimson’s Pat Mastellotto. They’re both all over the kit but it’s to play disparate parts and not to bulk the drum part up like a Neil Peart. (I love Neil’s style, mind you.) The set featured lots of songs not played recently and a couple never before. It was nice to be at a prog show with a diverse crowd (for prog) and with most fans not clamoring for the oldies but rather really enjoying the band’s recent material.
As I remarked in a recent post, the band recorded their two shows in Chicago last week for a DVD and Steve Wilson said that the band may be back in the States next spring to promote it. Let’s hope they do return and that they don’t play the fucking Rave.