Tag Archives: progressive rock

Steven Wilson – Live in New York City, 5th March 2016

9 Mar

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The disappointment was palpable. The thousands that had filled up Manhattan’s historic Beacon Theater on a cold March evening were probably beginning to regret their decision. A crew member had just announced that Steven Wilson, the main attraction of the night was unwell. For the first time in his 20 years of touring, Wilson had lost his voice on the night of a concert.

When he did come out on the stage however, the applause was deafening. Perched up on the first row of the balcony, I could hardly contain my excitement. Needless to say, Wilson was a person whom I practically worshipped. Being a huge lover of progressive rock music myself, I have often felt my musical taste to be somewhat of an anachronism – displaced in time by a few decades. Consequently, it is difficult to find musicians these days who create progressive rock in the manner it was meant to be created. Amongst the few who do create such music however, Wilson stands out as a towering, trailblazing figure – his greatness in the genre comparable only to the thematic depth of his compositions; his multifaceted brilliance, matched only by the melancholic beauty of his lyrics.

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Despite his illness that night, Wilson made a statement of intent that the concert would be unique, but that his vocal contributions would be limited. He went on to confess that his music was depressing, and that the crowd would definitely have to be miserable to have paid to come and watch him that night. With that bit of wry humour he began the first of his two part set. The first part was essentially a complete live rendition of his album Hand. Cannot. Erase. He called upon his harmonic partner, the very talented Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb to fill in his parts as he himself fulfilled his guitar and synth duties. All the disappointment that had burdened the atmosphere in the theater vanished the moment Ninet delivered a flawless, breathtakingly powerful rendition of the title track. Screaming through the chorus at an octave above the usual, she dispelled all notions of mediocrity and quickly established herself in the adulation of the audience. She continued her class act – tackling pieces ranging in vocal difficulty – from the relatively easy Perfect Life to the rather complicated Ancestral. Steven himself took over the vocals for the less demanding songs (Home Invasion and Happy Returns) – choosing to alternate with Ninet on several occasions. The other members on the set were absolutely top notch- particularly the drummer, Craig Blundell, who, Steven revealed was only “slightly less sick than he was”. The brilliance of the instrumentalists stole the show particularly, during the drum and keyboard heavy pieces – Home Invasion and Routine #9.

The second part of the set comprised Wilson’s earlier work with Porcupine Tree, and some of his own. The lead guitarist, Dave Kilminster who had sung 3 Years Older in the previous set returned to the vocals for My Book of Regrets. Ninet delivered yet another mesmerizing piece – this time a Porcupine Tree classic – Don’t Hate Me, but her crowning achievement of the night came in the form of Sleep Together – which saw her unleash a stunning vocal duet with Wilson. Her voice reached heights of epic brilliance while the audience looked on in awe and wonder. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth if one were to contend that she effectively stole the limelight from Steven that evening. The other pieces in the set included Index and Vermillioncore – two of Wilson’s earlier works, both of which, much like the rest of the concert, had the Steven Wilson brand of eerie melancholia and pensive depression plastered all over.

 

The David Bowie tribute

The David Bowie tribute.

While the set officially closed with Sleep Together, the encore saw Wilson arrange a tribute to the late David Bowie – something that has become a running feature in his current North American tour. Ninet took to the vocals for one last time, while Wilson strummed along to the iconic space / psychedelic classic, Space Oddity. Needless to say, it was received with huge applause from the audience. For the last act of the night he requested the crowd to accompany him along for one of Porcupine Tree’s most loved numbers – The Sound of Muzak from the 2002 album In Absentia. The crowd acquiesced. The result was an absolutely thunderous recreation that left many a mark on many a mind that night. Wilson may not have sung a word in that song, but he had made his intent clear enough. Progressive rock is much more than singing the songs out loud. It has more to do with the state of mind, and the musical epiphany that results therefrom. And in that, Steven had absolutely nailed it, and driven home his point with a poise that belied his present indisposition.

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When one follows the meandering history of rock music in the 20th century, some names stand out more than others. This is not just owing to the oeuvre of work they created (though that certainly goes a long way) but also owing to the legacy they leave behind. Then there are the other names who didn’t quite make their effect felt in their time. Their music remained underground, only to be resuscitated much, much later by adoring audiences around the world. In spite of being largely eclipsed during their lifetimes, the influence they had in paving the path forward for rock music simply cannot be denied. Velvet Underground, and the enigmatic Lou Reed, for example, never achieved commercial success. But the legacy they left behind was monumental.

Broadly speaking, Steven Wilson has all the makings to be in the latter category. His music will never be considered “hip”. It will never hit the mainstream, nor will it ever feature high up on the Billboards. His voice will seldom be heard on popular radio. But even after years have passed –

after we’ve lost the skyline

we stepped right off the map

drifted into blank space

and let the clocks relapse,

… Steven Wilson will shine on like a star in the night sky. For his will be legacy that is timeless. A legacy that Nothing. Can. Erase.

words by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool). Pictures by Karuna Ahuja.

Karnivool, Live and Loud at The Festival, Nicco Park, Calcutta (11/1/2015)

17 Jan

Dissidence is the mother of cohesion.

True words. We here at Top Five Records, for instance, may appear, on the surface, to be a bunch of music loving blokes, who are forever in unanimous agreement with everything that appears on the site; the sort who live in blissful harmony in the interwebs and who listen to good music that they all love. But the truth is far, very far from that.

Consider the Aussie progressive rock band, Karnivool.

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Yeah, them.

In my opinion, and I’m sure, most of T5R would disagree, Karnivool is one of the greatest, yet one of the most under-rated bands, that exist in the world today. If you’re willing to look beyond the droning monotones of indie rock, and the tedium of modern day metal, Karnivool brings to the table, an oeuvre of music, so staggering in design and complexity that it leaves the attentive listener absolutely astounded. In the three albums that they have released since their formation in 1997, they’ve explored and experimented with styles of metal and alternative rock that very few bands have even dared to try.

So when Karnivool decided to drop by my hometown I was just short of doing this:

OMG I'm so excited I can't hide it OMG

OMG I’m so excited I can’t hide it OMG

I would hazard a guess that for the uninitiated, the concert, like most progressive rock concerts, was a deadly bore. But for people familiar with Karnivool, as for those who are familiar with progressive rock music, it was a rewarding experience. Prog rock works in a funny manner. There’s this learning curve associated with most prog rock songs, and the more you hear them, the better you understand the subtle complexities involved in them; and the better you understand these subtle complexities, the more you appreciate the music. Like a movie that you’ve seen a hundred times over – which you now know so well, that the hair on the back of your neck tingles when that epic scene is about to arrive, and you relish it in its entirety when it finally does.

Ian Kenny, the vocalist, wasn’t exactly the verbose type, so he let their music do most of the talking – which was pretty much what we wanted, because it was brilliant. He did seem to be enjoying the crowd support though, and looked relatively relaxed while singing – that is saying something, because it is honestly difficult to sing live, along to music that is so multi-layered and variable in terms of time signatures and rhythm. Steve Judd, the brilliant sticksman did some masterclass work on the drums (again, extremely commendable, because, you know, prog.)

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They performed songs from their three albums, including some of my favourites – Simple Boy, Cote, Themata, Rocquefort, Mauseum. It was a fine display of musicianship and technical prowess and they kept the fans’ attention at a steady high throughout the evening, and when they finally ended their set list with a heavily requested “New Day”, it provided the perfect denouement to their act.

I’ll stop here, and let you check out some Karnivool songs for yourself. I’m sure these songs will evoke mixed feelings – some will love them, while others will find them to be a drag.

But then, as a wise man once said, dissidence is the mother of cohesion. So it’s all cool in the end.

Subhayan Mukerjee

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