Porcupine Tree with Bigelf at Sound Academy, Toronto – Gig review and show photos

May 10, 2010

Gig/Concert: Porcupine Tree with Bigelf
Venue: Sound Academy, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date: 8 May 2010
In One Word: Visual

Porcupine Tree at Sound Academy, Toronto, 8 May 2010 - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

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:

Related links:
Album Review – Porcupine Tree – The Incident
Porcupine Tree – Myspace

Brian Banks

Editor and Founder, Music Vice Magazine. Writer. Photographer. Poet. From Scotland. Not Ireland. Proudly based in Toronto, Canada. Rock N' Roll Don't Pay The Rent... 

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11 Responses to Porcupine Tree with Bigelf at Sound Academy, Toronto – Gig review and show photos

  1. Alice on May 12, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Great show.

  2. Andrew on May 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    The red PT picture is awesome, nice one.

  3. Phil Simon on May 13, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Wilson is right. How do you enjoy a show if you’re constantly taking blurry pics? Anyone who’s been to a PT show knows that there’s an ambiance unlike so many other concerts. Don’t get distracted with your iPhone.

  4. CC on May 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Nothing like a PT concert! Great band! Saw Pearl Jam in Buffalo Monday too and every other person seemed to be on their cell phone. What the heck?

  5. Kent Douglas on May 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I totally agree, I was in Toronto from Detroit to see this show. It was worth every dollar, lot of foolish individuals trying to cop out on the picture rule. I had a pair of drunken girls not too far from me sitting there taking pictures, security kindly, “took care,” of the distraction.

    Aside from that Porcupine Tree was in top form as should be expected. Loved The Incident set and Anesthetize, all good stuff. Had to bolt before the encore was over so I could beat the crowd out but all in all very good showing.

  6. deadwing on May 15, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Just to pick up on a couple of points…

    It’s certainly NOT common for a ban on picture taking at UK gigs…I don’t see the problem if someone takes an occasional snap to remember the show THEY’VE PAID A LOT OF MONEY TO SEE (prices in the UK on this tour were almost double what they charged last time round)… If someone is overdoing it, or it’s truly stopping your enjoyment of the show then that’s what security is there for. Personally, I find those people who talk during the music WAY more annoying

    They’ve also come down heavy on tapers too – which considering they were cool with it back in the day when they weren’t so popular I find a bit strange… a lot of fans discovered PT through a live recording – myself included. So they don’t want their fans photgraphing them or taping them, yet they do nothing about the pavement T shirt sellers outside who are truly taking money out of their pockets.

    Great band, just think they are dissapearing up their own backsides these days..

  7. T.L. on May 17, 2010 at 6:01 am

    deadwing, just wondering where you’re going to see gigs? Most venues in England like the O2 Academies have a standard ‘No Bags, No Cameras, No audio or video recording devices” rule.. The t-shirt street sellers with the dodgy fake merch are always a problem for bands but most fans know better and steer well clear from that crap.

  8. Ben Anderman on May 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Awesome show.

    “The first half was mostly newer songs” – More precisely, the first half was the whole (first disc of) The Incident.

  9. yaz on May 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    With the heavy amount of av work put in to their current shows, I can see why photography/videography might not be welcome.

    I don’t think they can do anything about the vendors outside venues though.

  10. deadwing on May 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    T.L. – yes most places have those rules, but no one stops people taking phones in and no one stops people taking snaps on them… If you are taking in a bag with an SLR in, then yes, you’ll not get that in, but I’ve not yet been to a venue that comes down on people using camera phones. If they are being over used and are stopping your enjoyment of the show, then fair enough, get the security on them.

    The sellers outside are always way busier than the inside merch…so it might not be good quality but often the designs are way better and it’s a fraction of the cost of the official stuff! Maybe if bands did a cheap, simple tour T it would help stop the outside traders. As for no one being able to do anything about them..they are illegal traders- the police can shut them down, but it seems the band would rather go after their own fans, easier targets I guess.

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