Visceral and cerebral: more often than not, these words are mutually exclusive when they characterize a performance, yet a Steven Wilson concert lends a whole new perspective to such a paradox. A soft-spoken person off-stage, he commands the scene in front of perceptive audience, and there’s something devilish, and thus magnetic, about his slender presence. So Wilson admitting, “Just because I’m weak / You can steal my dreams / You can reach inside my head,” in “The Raven That Refused To Sing” which closes his current live set, is a post factum invitation of sorts, food for thought. It’s possibly no coincidence, then, that Steve reveals the final piece of his multimedia puzzle while going barefoot – here’s a sign of a musician being deeply grounded.
As far as aloofness goes, it gets shattered to smithereens in the beginning of the show, once the title composition of the artist’s latest album, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”, sees bassist Nick Beggs incite the public to clap and turn that kind of hand action into a truly indelible muscle memory. The main man, out of melodic duties for now, saunters the stage gesticulating in a rather agitated manner before relaxing and switching from guitar to keyboards to laptop and back again whence also spring jokes with a serious, not lighthearted, core.
“Happy music makes me fucking miserable,” Wilson says and adds, working the same paradox, that he finds negative things uplifting and comforting, which provides an explanatory slant to “Routine,” where Dave Kilminster delivers a sharp solo, although all eyes are riveted to the backdrop screen at the moment in order to catch every instant of dramatic animation that’s unfolding there only to shed blood which colors the overhead lights. This sensory play shoots through the entirety of these two hours, even when the artist tries to back away from it all by sliding back to the very start of his solo career and reaching for “Harmony Korine,” a piece linked to the recent times thanks to ravens in the companion video, while the inspiration for the song lay, in Wilson’s words, in the shoegazing scene of the ’80s wasteland… with no objection from Beggs whose band KAJAGOOGOO roamed the same terrain around the same years and who is harmonizing and playing Chapman Stick on “Perfect Life” that references that era.
The pinnacle of his supporting vocals comes on PORCUPINE TREE’s “Lazarus,” augmented with Kilminster’s slide, whereas other cut from Steve’s old ensemble, “Sleep Together,” brings about a bout of severe musicians’ headbanging and drives everyone into a frenzy. Still, it’s a last, albeit pre-encores, part that explores a Steven Wilson paradox in the most obvious way: once a semi-transparent curtain falls to hide the players, it doesn’t only create ghostly shadows, but also brings closer the projections and the very soul of the artist – its wondrous, if deadly, mechanics as illustrated in “Watchmaker.” From hushed acoustic strum to metal squeal, those are the mechanics of wicked magic: cerebral yet visceral.
Photos © Joe del Tufo