If I required yet another reminder that The Supreme Being does not evenly distribute his gifts, I need look no further than Steven Wilson. Let’s have a think about this: Does he have a back catalogue spanning more than 20 years, covering a diverse variety of genres? – He does. Can he sing and play a multitude of musical instruments to a more than acceptable standard? – He certainly can. Do rock legends such as King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Yes’ Steve Howe and Chris Squire queue up to have him remix their classic albums to give them a 21st century sonic spring clean? – They do. And on top of all this, he looks at least 10 years younger than his age and seems like the kind of bloke that you would happily spend a highly entertaining evening with in the pub. Bastard.2015-03-16 20.16.46

Wilson’s new album Hand. Cannot. Erase. deals with themes of isolation, technology and childhood. Tonight’s show opens with a video: a montage of bleak, urban high rise buildings. The camera dissolves to a close up of one of these; we watch lights go on and off behind net curtains and blinds and are tacitly invited to speculate on the lives being lived behind them. This is accompanied by an extended, pre-recorded version of First Regret, the new album’s opening track; distant children’s’ voices over a rising electronic loop, building a palpable sense of tension until the band take to the stage.
Unsurprisingly, tonight’s show focuses heavily on the new album. Hand. Cannot. Erase is loosely based on the true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young,attractive, sociable woman who died in her city flat and lay undiscovered for three years. The large video screen behind the stage plays out a loose narrative to accompany the songs but, for me at least, is something of a distraction – you can watch the video or you can watch the band and I’d much rather watch the band.

And what a band it is. Wilson swaps between guitars, bass and keyboards and is supported by Guthrie Govan on guitars, Marco Minneman on drums, Adam Holzman (son of Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman) on keyboards and Nick Beggs on basses and Chapman Stick. All of these guys are crack musicians who could name their price as sidemen in the touring band of their choice; Holzman was Miles Davis’ musical director for four years.

There may be a reviewer somewhere in the world that doesn’t reference Beggs as “ex-Kajagoogoo bassist Nick Beggs” but it won’t be me. Ex-Kajagoogoo bassist Nick Beggs provides practically a whole band’s worth of backing on his own from his Chapman Stick, which is fascinating to watch – how do you even go about learning to play one of those?

Wilson’s breaks up the songs from the new album with selections both from his band The Porcupine Tree and his earlier solo albums. I particularly enjoyed Lazerus, shorter and poppier than we are used to hearing from him, and Index which the band storm through relentlessly.

Ancestral, Happy Returns and Ascendant Here On…, the last three of Hand Cannot. Erase.’s tracks, take us to the end of the main part of the performance and the band leave the stage one by one in darkness. Almost immediately however, a gauze curtain is pulled across the front of the stage, ticking, whirring sounds emanate from the back of the hall and a video is projected onto the curtain to introduce The Watchmaker from Wilson’s 2013 album The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories). The band return to the stage and play from behind the curtain but clearly visible through the gauze, treating us to an encore of The Watchmaker, Porcupine Tree song Sleep Together and The Raven That Refused To Sing.

The curtain drops to the floor and the band take their bow. “Wait till you hear the second half” Wilson jokes but two hours of stunning entertainment is as much as we can reasonably ask for. Gig of the year so far.

John Scott

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