concert notes: Steven Wilson – The Ritz, Ybor City, FL, December 13, 2018
Steven Wilson is an artist so prolific his discography (put together by a German fan, downloadable here) is over 500 pages long. Between his solo music, Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, I.E.M., Bass Communion and other efforts, there is a long catalog to choose from at a concert. I was going to be traveling out of state the week he was in Texas, but was lucky enough to see him and his band at The Ritz in Ybor City. The fact that tickets were in the thirty dollar range, and it was a small venue was at once hard to believe and a great opportunity. Many thanks to friends Boyd and Ramzi for going with me; they head-bang almost as well as my gorgeous wife, and they stuck around to the bitter end. It was mostly a general admission venue, and we grabbed a place on the stairs (near a bar, of course) for a decent view of the stage.
It took me a while (almost a month) to put this post together, partially because of the holidays and travel but also because I went back and listened to a lot of these tracks and albums, including the versions of them from the recent live album Wilson recorded at Prince Albert Hall. I’d been using some of this music as my accompaniment during long runs for this half-marathon season – but some in this set I hadn’t listened to that deeply. I think I’ve now fixed that without intending to.
I first got turned onto Wilson and Porcupine Tree through Rush (all of my friends are groaning now). Alex Lifeson of Rush did a guest stint on the Porcupine Tree album “Fear of a Blank Planet” on the track “Anesthetize”. But this was the first time I was able to see him (and his bare feet) on stage in concert.
The band played for slightly under three hours, and covered a lot of ground. I couldn’t hear the names when Wilson announced them at the end of the concert (there was cheering and, as I mentioned, we’d found a spot near a bar…and I thought I heard him say something like “every band should have at least one female…”), but I believe this was the band (based on this photo); apologies if the lineup is incorrect:
- Nick Beggs – bass and chapman stick
- Craig Blundell – drums (website)
- Adam Holzman – keyboards (website – his new album is Truth Decay)
- Alex Hutchings – lead guitar
In his first conversation with the crowd, Wilson said even though most of his lyrics can be heavy and depressing that they were here to have fun. The “To The Bone” tour had been going on for a while, and the band were finding ways to amuse themselves. They were trying to make the drummer play out of sync by clapping off of the beat. Wilson said it was because of Japanese fans who did that to them…but Blundell didn’t miss a beat there or at our show.
Part way through the first set, he complimented the first row as the only first row on tour who watched him eye to eye and didn’t start at him through a smartphone camera. While I enjoy my snaps as a remembrance, I’m all for those artists that ban smartphones from concerts so that the fans are engaged (and not holding their phone in front of the person behind them).
Wilson also talked about the electric guitar as a waning art form, where bands these days are playing it up high instead of strung low. He cited Hendrix among others (and Prince later) for the coolness factor with which they played the axe and said he admired that they played their solos without looking at their instrument…which he vowed to do in the next track!
Longer songs at a concert is also a waning art form. I’ve put the times in the set list below as I really enjoy a long jam session that has continuity…and the ones in this set list were outstanding.
A short intro film called “Truth” started the setlist, showing images with words on them. The words started out as obvious, and then words that you wouldn’t associate with the same picture that was already shown were posted. The crowd started out boisterously cheering each slide…then slowly grew silent. Wilson as always is thought-provoking.
The setlist consisted of:
- 7 tracks from “To The Bone”
- 2 tracks from “Hand.Cannot.Erase”
- 3 tracks from “In Abstensia” (Porcupine Tree)
- 2 tracks from “Deadwing” (Porcupine Tree)
- 1 track from “4 1/2”
- 1 track from “The Raven The Refused to Sing”
- 1 track from “Fear of a Blank Planet” (Porcupine Tree)
- 1 track from “Stupid Dream” (Porcupine Tree)
- 1 track from Prince
So that makes 11 Steven Wilson solo tracks, 7 Porcupine Tree tracks, and one Prince track, and almost 3 hours worth of tunes…for $30. The album covers in the table below link back to Steven Wilson’s web site – click on the links, listen to the tunes, buy the man’s music so he can afford to tour! :)
The setlist table below is mostly from setlist.fm and partially from my memory. Times included are from the studio albums.
Nowhere Now 4:04 Wilson brought out the slide on his guitar. This was, after all, part of the "To The Bone Tour" so no surprise that 7 out of the 11 songs on that album were played.
We had every chance
But we never learn
We just make it worse
What we don't deserve
Pariah 4:44 Video on the wall behind the band with Ninet Tayeb (who sings with Wilson on the album) singing her part. Cool effect with Wilson singing his depressing lines in sync with her uplifting ones. Here's the video of them both live from the Home Invasion session.
Home Invasion /Regret #9 11:29 I have several Steven Wilson solo albums, but until this concert, Hand.Cannot.Erase was not one of them. It is now.
Some of the setlist have these two tracks broken out, but they are listed as one on the album, so same here.
The Creator Has A Mastertape 5:21 My first and favorite Porcupine Tree album, and three tracks from this album, plus seven Porcupine Tree songs over all. They didn't play "Trains" from this album...my only regret!
Refuge 6:42 Nice soft piano start, that builds up...with once again somewhat despondent, somewhat hopeful lyrics.
Hold on to life
In this refuge of dirt
And search for a place you can breathe again>
The Same Asylum As Before 5:14 Wilson told the crowd that the electric guitar was no longer in fashion, that new bands were playing it up high. Electric guitars are cool and should be played without looking at them, with the confidence of a Hendrix or Prince. Steven said he would do that for the guitar solo in this track...and I only saw him look at the frets once!
Great quote from this article on his web site: What’s this song about?
That it doesn’t matter what politician you vote for, or which religion you align yourself with, you’re still stuck in the same madhouse!
Ancestral 13:30 A nice long jam to go in to intermission.
Reason never seems to come to guilty men
Things that meant so much mean nothing in the end
That function is dysfunction and to hide the truth
Distracted by their faith, ignoring every proof
Arriving Somewhere but Not Here 12:02 Near the beginning of the concert, Wilson said: "we will be taking a 20 minute intermission because, let's face it, we're old and so are you."
Book ending intermission with two ten-minute-plus rockers is an excellent idea!
Never stop the car on a drive in the dark
Never look for the truth in your mother's eyes
Never trust the sound of rain upon a river rushing
Through your ears
Arriving somewhere but not here
Permanating 3:35 This is the song he described as his happy "pop" song, invoking the name of "ABBA". It's a rocker for a pop song.
Song of I 5:22 This song is funky, with Wilson getting down on the floor to play with his guitar "toys" and Alex Hutchings playing his guitar with a violin bow. If I recall, this was the song where while a montage of a threesome dating played on the wall behind them the entire band laid down on stage to play...couldn't see much from where we were standing. Video of the Albert Hall concert version here.
Lazarus 4:18 I would have preferred "Shallow" or "The Start of Something Beautiful" (which has some awesome bass lines) but this allowed Wilson and his bare feet to get behind the piano.
Detonation 9:20 Great track from the new album (Wilson's fifth solo studio album), but much better live!
Heartattack in a Layby 4:15 Not as cool of a song title as "The Creator Has a Mastertape" but close!
If I close my eyes
And fell asleep in this lay-by
Would it all subside
The fever pushing the day by
Vermillioncore 5:13 Link to a video from the Home Invasion live DVD of this song. The DVD closely mimics the entire To The Bone setlist.
Sleep Together 7:30 An amazing song at the end of a great album...but depressing lyrics on the surface. I've read that this is song (and some other tracks on the album) is inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ novel "Lunar Park" and that the escape referenced in the lyrics is about the kids in the book escaping the banality of their existence. Given that some of the earlier songs reference that type of existence, a nice ambiguous ending to a thematic album....remember those?
Even Less 7:11 The photo at the top this blog is from Wilson coming out by himself to do this track.
Sign 'O The Times Steven Wilson praises Prince as one of the best if not the best American musician, then busts out a Prince cover!
The Sound of Muzak 5:01 The lyrics - how true:
Hear the sound of music
Drifting in the aisles
Stretching on for miles
The music of the future
Will not entertain
It's only meant to repress
And neutralize your brain
The Raven That Refused To Sing 7:57 From Steven Wilson's website: The Raven That Refused To Sing explores the story of "An old man at the end of his life who is waiting to die. He thinks back to a time in his childhood when he was incredibly close to his older sister. She was everything to him, and he was everything to her. Unfortunately, she died when they were both very young. The man becomes convinced that a raven, who visits his garden, is something of a symbol or a manifestation of his sister". There was a cartoon of sorts on the screen behind the band that depicted this in realistic, depressing fashion.
Also published on Medium.