Way back when I started Adventures in High Fidelity Audio I had thought I would like to cover concerts as well as music releases (which I did at one time) alongside the main focus of AIHFA which was and always had been intended to be audio equipment reviews. As they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions and those early thoughts came to naught until now that is, with this being my first concert review (1).
I think it somewhat fitting that my first gig/concert review should be the darling of the audiophile community – well this particular audiophile – Steven Wilson. Why darling of the audiophile community ? Put simply this musician has been responsible for bringing a level of sound quality to both his own music and the high quality remasters his name is all over (2) that just isn’t that common to find in a world of highly compressed, murky recording and poor quality mastering both on original recordings and in particular modern re-masters that are often much poorer than the originals. In my opinion and that of many anything with his name upon it is outstanding from a sound quality point of view.
You might think my admiration for Wilson’s re mastering work on the Genesis, Jethro Tull and King Crimson back catalogue would have filled me with a strong desire to see the man perform live and yet if I am honest that was not the case, as I just wasn’t sure what to expect music wise.
I come to Wilson from No Man, his collaboration with Tim Bowness and not as might immediately be thought from Porcupine Tree (or Blackfield), though I subsequently do own a number of these bands albums, some I like, some border on being a little too heavy for me, as my taste in music leans more to the less heavy rock and more melodic, gentle music. So it is with a degree of embarrassment, and feeling somewhat of an idiot, that I had not bought any of his solo albums, this feeling being strongly reinforced by what I heard the other night at the concert, the subject of this review.
Being frank the gig at the Mandela Hall, for me personally stands out as an incredible experience, a landmark regarding the quality of musicianship on display, sound quality and sheer gob smacking brilliance – a night that will long haunt future concert experiences as to how a concert should be.
Steven Wilson’s ‘To The Bone’ tour has been ongoing since Jan 31st with the first concert in Lisboa, Portugal and the last on July 28th in Romania, and on the 17th it was the Mandela Hall’s turn to host the man and his band, and what a band.
Steven Wilson – guitar, keyboards, lead vocals, Alex Hutchings – lead guitar, Nick Beggs – bass, Chapman Stick, Craig Blundell – Drums and on keyboards Adam Holzman. These five musicians were in my view at the top of their game on Saturday night, the quality of playing, the tightness and interplay between the musicians on show was incredible, not a single moment wasted whether it was a more delicate moment or a balls to the wall rock out.
One of the stand outs for me, alongside the performance, was the sheer quality of the sound. Accident of fate, a good venue acoustic or more likely the a mix of that and the sound engineer skill, whatever the reason this concerts sound was breathtaking in its clarity, weight and scale, the sort of thing that no audio system I have heard to date can manage. Every instrument was within its own space, separation and delineation of the various details amazing. Nick Beggs bass lines had weight scale and each note was easily heard and could be followed as were the other musicians playing, their contributions also both incredible and fully audible. Steve Wilson’s vocals were incredibly clear, every nuance and emotion had a degree of clarity I have rarely encountered before, even when the music at times became a wall of sound.
As a kind of preparation for the concert I revisited some Porcupine Tree songs that were part of the set list and listened to solo material for the first time on my own not so shabby system and as enjoyable as this was frankly nothing could have prepared me for what I heard in the Mandela Hall. One word fits, breathtaking.
From the opening video ‘Truth’ which was projected upon a gauze curtain, which stretched from floor to ceiling across the front of the stage (also used to provide a visual of Ninet Tayeb for her vocals on Pariah) to the closing encore the quality of performance and sound blew me away. I stood mesmerised by the swirling pulsing music, the ebb and flow from gentle melancholic singing with simple instrumentation to the incredibly powerful sweep of complex multilayered progressive rock might, coming from the instruments of five incredibly accomplished artists – very much in their individual and collective groove.
It would be hard to pick out individual songs as the quality standard was incredibly high but if I must then The Raven that Refused to Sing, Vermillion Core, Heart Attack in a Layby, Lazarus and Home Invasion stood out, with Home Invasion/Regret #9 live being an incredible live experience, as was Refuge which came closest on the night to the vibe of No Man, a band who’s music I adore.
The thing that impressed me a great deal was how all these songs, many incredibly complex worked well live and a rare thing happened, not with one song but all, the live performance was just as good if not better than the recorded one. So often that isn’t the case as live fails to capture what was done in the studio. I know many will disagree with me here, but for me way too often in the past the live versions have fallen short of the enjoyment I have got listening on my home audio system. This night joined a few other shows (3) that were transcendent, but in this case everything fell into that zone, not just some of it.
I thought Steven Wilson’s rapport, and banter with the audience was excellent and the stories and insights he revealed very much added to the night. As I write this I am still buzzing and wondering if I will ever hear anything like this again, I certainly hope so. (4)
I for one hope to see Steven Wilson again, as this was an outstanding concert.
Performance – 10 out of 10
Sound – 10 out of 10
Steven Wilson – http://stevenwilsonhq.com/
Nick Beggs – http://nickbeggs.co.uk/
Alex Hutchings – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Hutchings_(guitarist)
Adam Holzman – http://www.adamholzman.com/brave.html
Craig Blundell – https://www.craigblundell.com/
(1) Taking photos has always posed issues and without any gig/concert review imagery I think any such falls short so always lacking images I just never did a concert review. I am painfully aware of the limitations of the photos here, but without official approval it is difficult to manage much more that what a mobile phone can achieve. However I think them just good enough to illustrate a concert review, which is why I have written one.
(2) To date I have found all of his remaster work to add substantially to my enjoyment of the albums he has worked on.
(3) The Blue Nile – The Opera House, Clannad – New Vic Theatre, Tori Amos – Arts Theatre. Jane Siberry – The Real Music Club at the Errigle Inn.
(4) The only sour note in an otherwise amazing night was the few idiots who insisted on talking and in one case texting right beside me. Frankly I paid good money to hear Steven Wilson not some drunk prattling on about who knows what – I seriously wish these types would stay away. These are the type of people who would do this during the Second Coming as well.
© Text and Photos Copyright 2018 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio. Except Steven Wilson image, Copyright resides with its owner – taken from Mandela Hall Information Gig Page.
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