Sunday, 13 December 2009

Porcupine Tree: Rock Lessons at the Academy

Going back to the Manchester Academy to see Porcupine Tree live was like visiting a friend that I hadn't seen for a long time. Four and half years in fact. When I got to that part of Oxford Road I even discovered that that friend had moved house! It seems that finding locations where PT performs is as problematic as trying to find their CD's in local shops! The first time I saw them was back in 2002 at Academy 3 and when I recognised the familiar steps leading up to the main doors I thought I'd find them in there again. Getting our tickets out I heard a voice saying that there was a queue, and so there was. A queue going back so far I didn't know whether to feel pleased for PT for attracting such support or trepidation for the prospect of being squashed into aphyxiation when we got in. Luckily my son Simon's bladder intervened so we nipped into a MacDonalds over the road. Going back I noticed another building which had an 'Academy' look to it, and what appeared to be an A4 sheet on the glass covered entrance with Porcupine Tree and North Atlantic Oscillation start times on it. Oh joy! No queue. This is more like it, but a part of me was wondering why there weren't more people. Most of the venues on this current tour promoting the album 'The Incident' have been sell outs, which had prompted me to think that the big queue down the street was for PT. Anyhow, as I was walking in I remembered that this was just the same feeling I had when I first saw them in 2002. Plenty of personal space around, a bar in the foyer and music filtering through from the auditorium. The support act, North Atlantic Oscillation, had already started their set and I then realised how late we were. We had a bit of a struggle getting to Manchester that day. Missed the direct train from Colwyn Bay by minutes, luckily got a train not long after to Chester, changed for Crewe, then got a connection to Manchester. In the end we were 20 minutes later than we had planned, not too bad considering, but there was no stop for the Oxford Road station. Therefore we had to hike it from Picadilly. The other dampener to our evening was the fact that the last train from Manchester to North Wales was at 10:35, so we knew before we left home that we would not see the entire show. Another throwback to my first PT show. What was so annoying is that the timetable has been changed since the summer, which had the last train leaving at 11:15, which me and Simon got home from a trip to Old Trafford. If this had still be running we would have probably seen the whole show. Never mind, seeing half of PT live is better than not seeing them at all. Or for that matter some other bands in full.
Of what I heard of the support act, which must have been a good half hour, I was impressed. North Atlantic Oscillation have a good sound, catchy melodies and not predictable. I like to be surprised by bands, to make me wonder where the music is going to go. They did that. There are too many bands who tend to follow a familiar path with their music, especially with progressive music, and veer towards areas already covered by bands they are trying to be like. N A O are, I believe, ploughing their own furrow, and planting the seeds to some promising music in the future.
Porcupine Tree planted their seeds way back in the early 90's, and it has taken a long time to bear fruit but they have finally broken through the barrier of musical prejudice that once gripped the progessive rock genre. They broke through for many of their fans years ago because their albums have been consistently good since 'Up The Downstair' in 1993. Since then the
Porcupine Tree sound has matured into a category that cannot be defined. File it under Porcupine Tree music!
By now the venue was pretty full, with a few hundred having joined the rest of us to see the main act. A voice spoke to the audience about the group policy of asking fans to refrain from using any type of recording devices or they would be escorted out of the auditorium. Throughout the time I was there I could see the odd jackass trying his luck to record snapshots for his posterity (one in front of me even had the nerve to stick his SLR above his head to take a shot of the band playing!) How he didn't get chucked out I'll never know. The band came on to a tremendous applause amidst a foggy stage and unleashed 'Occam's Razor', the first track of 'The Incident', whose power almost took me by surprise, even though I knew what was coming having listened to the CD often enough. The band have been playing the album in its entirety throughout the tour, which started at Seattle on September 15th. Colin Edwin's bass guitar sound was like a wave which makes your chest and stomach areas tremble! Simon was concerned of the dreaded
'brown note'! Porcupine Tree progressed through 'The Incident' flawlessly. I have to also mention the images of Lasse Hoile which were displayed in perfect synch throughout. Both disturbing and beautiful the images tend to distract you from the band, so your eyes are constantly in motion. I love the images that accompany the track 'Time Flies'. I can definately identify with my past, growing up, and experiencing the effects of the advancement of time. Personally, it has a poignant significance for me after the passing of my father last August. My first hearing of it coincided with that sad event. Back to the concert and the tracks 'Drawing the Line', 'The Incident' and 'Octane Twisted' absolutely rocked and sound even better live. Simon, being his first rock concert, was a bit taken aback with the noise and the sheer power of the band, Colin Edwin's bass rippling into us like a shock wave, and Gavin Harrison's drums booming with every beat. Steven Wilson's mastery on the guitar always amazes me. His fingers dance along the frets so effortlessly I swear he could be as good asleep! The closer 'I Drive the Hearse' is a beautiful ballad reminicent to me of something the Goo Goo Dolls were doing some years back. I knew that this song would be the last full song we would hear tonight, and I wondered where the time had flown, but it truly does go quicker when you are enjoying yourself. Reluctantly our time was up and a train had to be caught in order to prevent us from wandering Chester station all night waiting for the mail train! The 10 minute countdown of the band's re-emergence on stage was displaying on the screen and we left the auditorium with the strains of 'The Start of Something Beautiful' in the air. In fact as we were walking away from the building and with an ambulance rushing past us in full siren we could still hear the band. We managed to catch the train home at Oxford station in plenty of time in the end and practically devoid of other passengers. Overall, despite only seeing half of the show, the trip was worthwhile and anyway I needed a T-shirt!

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