The band was on hiatus for about 10 years, during which founder Steven Wilson focused on solo projects. It wasn’t clear if Porcupine Tree would ever again record or perform. Eventually, they started making new music together, and this is their first tour supporting it, and their first concert tour since 2010. Wilson has hinted that he wanted the band to go out on a high note – so it may be their last tour ever as well.
Given all this and more, fans were thrilled to welcome them to The Masonic in San Francisco.
Founding guitarist and lead vocalist Steven Wilson was front and center with strong rhythm guitar, intense solos, earnest vocals, and sometimes keys. Powerhouse drummer Gavin Harrison gave a masterclass on tastefully playing the song while including interesting parts. Keyboardist Richard Barbieri set the mood, especially in spacey, atmospheric songs. Wilson also made a point to introduce new guitarist Randy McStine, who excelled at soloing, and solid bassist Nate Navarro. Overall the band performed as a strong, fully-gelled unit as if they have been playing together for years.
The show exemplified advanced techniques while keeping things musical. Many bands in the progressive rock and metal world play highly technical music that is extremely difficult to perform, physically impressive, complicated, and intellectually interesting, but sacrifices musicality. Porcupine Tree kept the musicality across quiet ballads and blistering metal sections while pushing the boundaries of technique, using less common time signatures, and having unusual song structures.
Gavin Harrison played incredibly well. He used his large kit, with many toms and cymbals, to play all kinds of interesting grooves and fills. He included his many small splash cymbals and bell cymbals in creative ways, and excelled with varying his tom fills, always playing for the song while keeping the drum parts interesting.
Wilson sounded great. He used vocal effects well, sometimes reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan of Tool. He had great stage presence and good banter with the audience. He came across as relatable and human. As a self-described wretched old man, he told the audience early on that they were playing until the venue curfew, but need to take a 20-minute break in the middle. This acknowledged the reality of aging while showing humor and acceptance.
Visuals played a key role in the full production. Three key themes stood out. Drugs – especially prescription drugs – and their effect on people’s perception and empathy. This aligns with some of the lyrics. A second theme was poor and unhoused people. For one video, I had to wonder if the film was shot in San Francisco or the Bay Area as some elements looked so familiar. The third theme was space. The vastness of outer space, usually profound and empty, but sometimes featuring aliens rocking out.
Check out Porcupine Tree while you can. If you’re a fan of prog metal bands such as Opeth or Tool. Even if you’re a fan of Radiohead that wants more The Bends and OK Computer era rock with odd time signatures and sometimes metal in your life.
Overall it was a great show. I recommend anyone interested to see them if you get a chance – it may be your last!
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UPCOMING TOUR DATES
4 – Mexico City, MX – Pepsi Center^
7 – Santiago, CL – Movistar Arena^
21 – Berlin, DE – Max Schmelinghalle
23 – Vienna, AU – Gasometer
24 – Milan, IT – Forum
27 – Stockholm, SW – Globe
28 – Copenhagen, DK – Falkoner Theatre
30 – Katowice, PO – Spodek Hall
2 – Paris, FR – Le Zenith
4 – Stuttgart, DE – Porsche Arena
6 – Oberhausen, DE – KP Arena
7 – Amsterdam, NL – Ziggodome
9 – Zurich, CH – Halle 622
11 – London, UK – SSE Arena, Wembley