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Now… since I began working as a publicist I’ve been to several shows and festivals that are clearly jam band-oriented with a splash of EDM, bluegrass, and reggae thrown in. In the last several years I’ve seen Adam Ezra Group, Start Making Sense, DeadBeat, Flux Capacitor, Roots of Creation, Love Whip, Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers, Way Up South, AfterFab, and Rhythm Inc. just to name a few. I love that genre of music, especially if I can dance or swing a hula hoop to it, but it’s not my first love.
For me, progressive rock is where my love of metal, jam bands, psychedelia, electronica, and to a minor extent jazz and classical music comes together. It’s even my go to music when I work out at the gym. It had been a while since I’d seen any prog rock live and I can’t even remember when the last show I had been to was, so it was serendipity that I happen to see that Steven Wilson was coming to play at the Palladium in Worcester and there was a ticket contest for the show.
On a whim and with no expectations I entered to win tickets and then next thing I know I received an email letting me know that I had four waiting for me at the box office. I’ve been a fan of Steven Wilson since I heard Porcupine Tree over 17 years ago, along with King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant, and Soft Machine and more modern prog bands such as Muse, Tool, Ozric Tentacle, Opeth, and A Perfect Circle. I enjoy the complexity of emotions and sounds, the intricacies of the melodies, and how the music can turn from joyous to sadness from elation to anguish and everything in between.
While thinking about writing this review I thought about how Steven Wilson is quite possibly not only an outstanding composer, conductor, and producer of music, being nominated 4 times for a Grammy award, but also a brilliant scholar of emotions and all of his albums from Porcupine Tree to Blackfield to his latest solo work reflects and evokes so much of the human condition. Hand. Cannot. Erase. released earlier this year in February is Steven Wilson’s fourth solo project and he’s been on tour since March promoting it. I have not heard a note of this album before going to this show, so it was a real treat to go into a show “blind” to the music. I had seen Steven Wilson with Porcupine Tree play the Berklee College of Music twice, and the first time I had plenty of room in the balcony to dance. I was impressed that it looked as if the Palladium was sold out (the balcony was closed for this show). This multimedia performance had video projections of a young woman in her late 20s early 30s that synced along with the music.
Doing some research for this article I found that this album is based on the true life story of Joyce Carol Vincent. “The basic story, or concept of the record – it’s about a woman growing up, who goes to live in the city, very isolated, and she disappears one day and no one notices. There’s more to it than that. Now, what’s really interesting about this story is that your initial reaction when you hear a story like that is, ‘Ah, little old bag lady that no one notices, no one cares about.’ [Vincent] wasn’t [like that]. She was young, she was popular, she was attractive, she had many friends, she had family, but for whatever reason, nobody missed her for three years.”[– Steven Wilson
The first half of the show I would characterize as being rather subdued and melancholy. There were moments of jazz that wove into the orchestration with the traditional sounds of metal. Steven Wilson’s use of acoustic guitar interspersed within and between the songs was soft and soothing. It’s unfortunate that the Palladium can sound boomy, because I think that the acoustic guitar along with the keyboards would have sounded clearer and more present within the songs, juxtaposed to the heavier sounds of the guitar, drums, and bass.
Halfway through the show a gauze curtain came down over the front of the stage and the music got heavier and even more disturbing images of faces and melting images were played out while the band played. Lights flashed and the music built up to a crescendo of drums and guitar which caused the crowd to buzz and intensify their reactions to the music. It felt like a good old metal show and I certainly whipped my head around and stomped my feet to the music. Personally, I find it odd that music that can evoke so much within doesn’t cause more people to dance or move their bodies without. Standing up on one of the landings and looking into the crowd on the floor I saw very few people even nodding their head to the music. What a shame, I danced my ass off!
In the end, the gauze curtain fell and Steven Wilson wrapped up the night playing “The Raven That Refused to Sing” with the video to this song playing in the background. On the way back to the car, my friends tried to convince me to stick around and to get an interview with Steven. Honestly, I was not prepared for that. This was a night for me to have fun and to think of interview questions on the fly was not in the cards. We even drove past the guitarist and drummer as we were leaving the venue and one of my friends shouted out the window asking for an interview. But in the end we left Worcester anyway. I’m sure that Steven Wilson will be back in the United States again with another musical project and then I’ll be ready with my questions to meet one of my all-time favorite musical icons.
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