Gig/Concert: Porcupine Tree with Bigelf
Venue: Sound Academy, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date: 8 May 2010
In One Word: Visual
At Sound Academy in Toronto, Porcupine Tree delivered a prog rock odyssey with a multimedia concert experience that would have had the geeks from the high school AV Club all red faced and salivating… or more than they usually do, anyway.
Opening act, Los Angeles prog rockers Bigelf had set the tone for this evening just right, as four fellas with big hair delivered a big noise. Perhaps this is what an American prog rock show would’ve looked and sounded like in the ‘70s, because in terms of the bands demeanour and performance it seemed reminiscent of something from a bygone era. ‘Classic prog’ might be a good label for this as there is a vintage flavour to their sound, and the top hat wearing frontman Damon Fox typifies the old-school vibe of Bigelf, especially when being a showman by thumping on the keys of two keyboards either side of him while at the same time singing from the top of his lungs. The set ended powerfully with a wailing solo from guitarist Ace Mark on his SG before bleeding into the final song “Money Machine”, the opening of which sounded so much louder and strident than the studio version you’ll hear on Myspace if you were to go and look up this band.
There was a zero-tolerance on any photography from the crowd at this show, ‘kindly requested’ by the band by an announcer before Porcupine Tree came on stage. ‘FASCISTS!’, I hear you cry. The camera ban was no doubt disappointing for some fans but it’s a pretty common concert rule back on Porcupine Tree’s home turf in the the UK, and maybe a few punters learned something tonight: Ixnay on the gadgets because it’s often more fun to just enjoy the show and experience the moment, rather than waving your camera or mobile phone over your head for the duration to take some blurry pictures that you’re never going to look at again anyway. I could see the advantage of the ban on cameras because Porcupine Tree have such a visual-heavy display that it became rather immersive in places, with gazes firmly fixed on the videos that were screened on stage behind the band for most of the songs. I personally found the video element of this show particularly interesting having spent my afternoon at the Graduation Gallery at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), during which I’d spent most my time looking at some of short films created by students, the outstanding one being a 28 Days Later style short called Hummingbird by a talented director named Alexie Golob – a name that might be worth remembering, and who knows, one you might see directing music videos one day.
Porcupine Tree’s set was effectively split down the middle with a 10 minute countdown timer shown during the intermission. The first half was mostly newer songs, and one of the highlights for me was the title track from their latest album The Incident, a song rich with dark textures, some of which being provided by frontman Steve Wilson who for this song seemed to be using a baritone guitar, or a least a heavily drop-tuned one. Porcupine Tree have many acoustic led songs, one of the best known being “Time Flies”, which was good, but my interest waned for some of the other less heavy songs. For part two of Porcupine Tree’s set the band played “Stars Die”, one of their older songs that Wilson said had never been played before in Toronto; same deal for “Normal”. For me though, the Porcupine Tree stuff that I dig is the heavier stuff, and from this “Hatesong” was a high point, with a great bass intro and also some nice screeching guitar by Wilson who manned a gold Les Paul for this number.
The highlight of the night for me was “Way Out Of Here” which had an engrossing video of a girl who had lost a friend/lover, and who was walking along train-tracks with plenty of visual metaphors of feeling torn. The lighting accompaniments that featured throughout the evening were minimal and low, but at key moments lighting was used to make seamless and impacting transitions; like when the lights inside the Sound Academy filled the room just when in the video there is an impact as a train hits the girl.
Elsewhere, throughout the night, certain band members had been placed under a spotlight for key moments and in every one of these moments each band member always nailed their part: seeing Porcupine Tree live is all about this kind of precision, with everything choreographed to the finest detail. I prefer things a lot more lo-fii and with a little bit more unpredictability and spontaneity, and this was a different experience and rather lacking in the ‘usual’ rock gig atmosphere, a fact characterized by a stationary crowd, (many of whom were middle-aged and probably PT fans since the early days)…but Porcupine Tree don’t exactly make music to jump around too, and I wasn’t expecting to see any pogoing or moshing, so this was to be expected. It seems paramount for Porcupine Tree to keep every detail of their performance tight so that the music, video and lighting is tied together seamlessly, and in this regard it was easy to see that the band had put plenty of thought and practice into honing their live show which was technically faultless. While it’s not as elaborate as stadium-rock style pyrotechnics, the multimedia is still a big part of the Porcupine Tree live experience and for the most part the lighting and video create a concert experience that is engaging in a way that can help take you deeper into the music, or at least that is the aim, and it did work more often than not.
Definitely a bit of a different live experience, and in terms of the visual display at least, Porcupine Tree made the grade at Sound Academy.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
Pictures of Porcupine Tree at Sound Academy, Toronto: