And, of course, I'm also reflecting on where I was a week ago. I think it's about time I put down some detailed thoughts on Porcupine Tree's concert in Melbourne.
25 April. ANZAC Day. Admittedly, I was a bit surprised the band were going to play that day. I passed on going to a dawn service so I would still be alert late at night for the gig; frustratingly, the band's set was scheduled rather late, for 11pm-1am. Not at all good for those of us dependent on public transport, but at least Ali from Interference could give me a lift home.
Ali and I arrived a little over an hour before doors opened. Much to my surprise, when they did open at 8:30, it was a matter of simply strolling up to the front row and staking my claim for a spot on the rail. It seems an astonishing amount of people who turn up earlier than I do nonetheless go straight to the merch desk or the bar and pass up on the opportunity to be in the front row. It's not a hard choice for me, though, and I planted myself on the right as you look at the stage, in front of bassist Colin Edwin's position. After this point, it was just a matter of waiting - opening band Sleep Parade weren't due on until 9:30.
Now, let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. While Porcupine Tree have had droolworthy openers in Europe such as Anathema and Pure Reason Revolution, down here in Australia, we were stuck with a bunch of local lads, Sleep Parade. I regret not using my earplugs for their set; I thought I would be OK, but about halfway through - when the damage had already been done - I realised I was in error. Whoever was mixing the sound for Sleep Parade was quite possibly deaf. The guitar and vocals were far too low in the mix and not a single word sung by the vocalist was comprehensible. The bassist's skill could not be discerned, as everything he played just blurred into an inpenetrable wall of bass noise. Worst of all, the drummer was far too loud and made listening to the band painful. At subsequent shows when I did wear my earplugs, I discovered that they had some tolerable songs lost under the mix, but what a waste of an hour. I also found their singer/guitarist's onstage mannerisms to be a bit comical, but credit to the drummer, who was full of energy and played his heart out.
Finally, at 11pm, the theatre went dark, images began playing on the screen at the back of the stage, and the band took the stage. I was already familiar with the setlists from the earlier legs of the tour and wondered what changes we would receive or what rarities might be played. As it turned out, we got a very solid two hour setlist that focused strongly on Fear Of A Blank Planet, the album the band is currently promoting, but gave a solid overview of their earlier work too and even brought out Dark Matter from Signify. The full set, as I posted a few days ago, was:
1. Fear Of A Blank Planet
2. What Happens Now?
3. The Sound Of Muzak
6. Open Car
7. Dark Matter
9. A Smart Kid
10. Blackest Eyes
11. Way Out Of Here
12. Sleep Together
The crowd absolutely went off. This was not simply Porcupine Tree's first Australian concert, but their first show in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Before - or maybe after? - Lazarus, Steven Wilson remarked that a couple of months ago, the band had no idea if anybody in Australia even wanted to hear their music. He got a deafening roar in response, and he assured the crowd that the band would be back soon; we can only hope this proves to be more than just crowd-pleasing talk. Anesthetize was preceded with a remark about how Porcupine Tree is not "a band known for its brevity"; they proceeded to rock the fuck out of the Palace Theatre for 17.5 minutes with the centrepiece of the latest album.
I won't go through each song individually; I will, however, note that the trio of older songs, Dark Matter/Hatesong/A Smart Kid, was the highlight of the night along with Anesthetize and the encore. I was considerably impressed with how well Steven Wilson sung the "crushed like a rose in the river flow/I am, I know" part of Dark Matter, Hatesong allowed Colin Edwin and Gavin Harrison to steal the limelight for a song, though not without Steven Wilson providing stiff competition with some awesome guitar playing, and A Smart Kid was beautiful in its mournful and melancholic atmosphere.
It was during this sequence of songs - specifically the end of Hatesong - when the concert's most bizarre moment took place. Steven Wilson had to stop keyboardist Richard Barbieri from proceeding into A Smart Kid, and remarked into his microphone that his earpiece was lodged in his ear canal. He nonetheless played on, and after a couple of songs, a roadie removed the earpiece with a pair of tweezers, complete with a quip from Stevo that "you get everything at a Porcupine Tree concert, including live surgery on stage!" It was presumably the unfortunately located earpiece that threw off Stevo's timing in Blackest Eyes; for one chorus, he got completely lost on the lyrics and instead sung the melody as the crowd belted out the words for him in a vivid demonstration of how into the show Melbourne was.
Presumably due to the main set running a bit longer than expected, particularly with the earpiece incident, Mother And Child Divided was cut from the start of the encore and the band went directly into Trains. It was undoubtedly the biggest crowd pleaser of the night; it was greeted with a huge cheer, produced an enthusiastic sing-along, and unsurprisingly the 3/4 time clapping drew massive participation. The enthusiasm remained unabated for Halo, an absolutely storming concert closer, and the band left the stage to thunderous cheers and applause. It's pretty safe to say Melbourne loves Porcupine Tree. I sure as hell did. Being right up front sure as hell was the place to be. What an awesome couple of hours.