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Steven Wilson - Royal Festival Hall, London - 4th March 2013 (Live Review)

Thursday, 07 March 2013 Written by Ben Bland
Steven Wilson - Royal Festival Hall, London - 4th March 2013 (Live Review)

The inexorable rise of Steven Wilson as a solo artist continues to the point that he is now headlining venues almost on a par with those he formerly played with Porcupine Tree. Amongst the most prestigious of these is Londonís Royal Festival Hall, although his presence here tonight should not be considered symbolic of newfound recognition of progressive rock by the mainstream; the fact that Liza Minnelli played here a couple of days earlier rather puts paid to the idea that they are particularly fussy about who packs the place out. To be fair to Wilson it is worth mentioning that this show is pretty much packed to the rafters. His decision to take his solo project into the live arena has prompted a terrific response, to the extent that excited whisperings about this show have already billed it as the essential prog gig of 2013.

ImageAs someone in the minority when it comes to expressing unfavourable opinion toward Wilsonís latest solo record, 'The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)', the opening half of this mammoth 2 and a half hour show occasionally becomes somewhat of a drag. There is no denying that there are moments of urgency in new cuts like 'Luminol' and 'The Holy Drinker', but even live they come across as overthought despite their under-furnished musical profiles. Nevertheless it is impossible to deny the overwhelming talents of Wilsonís band. Each member gets moments in the spotlight although guitarist Guthrie Govan will no doubt take many of the most enthusiastic plaudits. His guitar tone and soloing technique are, by quite some margin, overly precise but it is lapped up the crowd, and praised by Wilson himself so it is hard to place much overt criticism at the manís door.

Of course, to these ears, where Wilson and his band truly excel is in their renditions of cuts from Wilsonís previous two solo albums, the uniformly excellent 'Insurgentes' and 'Grace for Drowning'. Pulling off an opus like 'Raider II' is certainly no mean feat. Unfortunately there is no space for 'No Twilight within the Courts of the Sun' or 'Remainder the Black Dog', two of Wilsonís most enthralling solo compositions, in the setlist. They are excluded in favour of well-judged performances of gentler tracks like 'Deform to Form a Star' and 'Postcard', although the rendition of 'Insurgentes' itself fails to capture the intimacy of the original.

Visually this is perhaps the most ambitious Wilson has ever been with any of his projects. The variety in visual styles brought about by the no longer constant involvement of Lasse Hoile is occasionally jarring, albeit still impressive. The unfurling of a screen between band and audience provides room for disturbing, if obvious, footage to accompany the gruesome tales of 'The Watchmaker' and John Fowlesí collector in 'Index'. It is the accompanying video footage to 'Raider II' and 'The Raven that Refused to Sing' that really hits home however. The former is Hoile at his most sadistically brilliant whilst the latter is a clever animation by Simon Cartwright and Jess Cope based on the work of Raven album cover artist Hajo Mueller.

It must be said that the star of the show, despite the band and the visual elements, remains Wilson himself. The reverence which he now commands in the progressive rock world has been won the hard way, through years of prolific songwriting and touring. Now he has reached the point where he is a genuine bona fide rock star in his own right, and he acts like it on stage, exhibiting a confidence that was lacking in his early years as a performing musician. No doubt there are those that are reminded of a desire for the return of Porcupine Tree via the encore, a run through of 'Radioactive Toy' from that groupís first album (even if said Ďgroupí was technically still a solo project back then), but from Wilsonís perspective why would he want to do anything else now? He has reached a point of well-deserved commercial and, for the most part, critical success unparalleled by almost any artist of his stylistic bent in many a year, and this hometown(ish) show feels in many ways like the culmination of that. His future is clearly brighter than it has ever been.

'The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)' is out now via Kscope, as is the live DVD 'Get All You Deserve'.

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