Though my birthday was many months ago, only last week I enjoyed a long-promised birthday present: a ticket to see Porcupine Tree! You see, I grew up listening to progressive rock: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Todd Rundgren & Utopia, Genesis, Yes, and a smattering of others (Camel, Gentle Giant, Renaissance, Focus). For this classic prog guy, it has been a breath of fresh air to be discover the neo-prog of Porcupine Tree. (Thanks to my buddy Chris for the ticket, and for introducing this band to me in the first place.)
I had seen them two times before from the crowded floor of the Fillmore, but this was my first time at the Warfield, and I was pleasantly surprised that we had balcony seats. Perfect for an old guy like me.
The opening act was a peculiar fellow playing a peculiar instrument. I looked him up afterwards and learned that he is That 1 Guy playing “the magic pipe,” and that he is a classically trained bassist. Here’s a taste of what we saw (only much, much louder, and even more fascinating in person):
When Porcupine Tree took the stage, frontman Steven Wilson announced: “We’ve spent the last year working on a new album called The Incident which has just come out. Disc 1 is 55 minutes of uninterrupted music, and we would like to perform that for you now. That’s prog.”
…And that is just what they did for their first set: moved from section to section of a large opus with scarcely a break. The roadies were kept busy because they had to have Steven Wilson’s next instrument ready to go, and he switches frequently between electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and keys. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate a concert if you’re not already familiar with the music. But the music was new to almost everyone there since the album had only been released the week before, and wow. Just wow.
Then after a ten-minute break, they played a second set of their older material. In the middle of the show, I thought, “I wonder if I am the only person here who is worshiping God right now.” To this old prog-rock guy, it was a wonderful evening shared with good friends.
I kept track of the shirts I saw in the audience: Marillion (two shirts), Camel, King Crimson, Dream Theater (two), Genesis. Unlike keyboard-driven classic prog, Richard Barbieri’s keyboard work is amazing in a different way: creating ambience. If I ever create another worship band, I want a keyboardist who doesn’t play piano riffs, but instead lays down sonic textures: swooshes, bleeps, and weird sounds.
If you’re learning about Porcupine Tree for the first time, I recommend their previous three albums: In Absentia, Deadwing, and Fear of a Blank Planet. They have earlier albums but those are the ones that first grabbed me. If you liked progressive rock and have missed hearing tunes incorporating complex time signatures like 5/4 and 7/8, do yourself a favor: check them out.