The lights slowly faded away in the auditorium of the atmospherically icy Moore Theatre. Ensuing applause could’ve been heard half a mile away from the venue, although it quickly dwindled as the audience was spellbound by a quiet, skittering and vaguely glitchy synthetic drone that began to play out of nowhere. Tensions were high in the nigh-silent venue, and while the feeling of anticipation was shared as well as nearly physically felt, there was also a certain air of impatience looming over, as the excitement of what was coming was beginning to be too much.
Then, one by one, the members of Steven Wilson’s five-piece band began to file in at a slowed pace, starting with their multi-faceted keyboardist Adam Holzman and ending with the living prog legend himself. With instruments in hand and looks of impassioned apathy on their faces, they tore into the 10 minute monster title track to the album that was at the focal point of last night’s show, Hand. Cannot. Erase. What ensued was over two hours of orgasm-inducing progressive rock bliss that even those who had seen Wilson’s live show before were absolutely not prepared for.
As one might expect given the immeasurable acclaim Steven Wilson’s latest full-length LP has received, the majority of the night was devoted to playing Hand. Cannot. Erase. from front to back, with occasional divergences into material from previous solo albums, and a couple tracks from his most regarded project, Porcupine Tree, here and there. While some in attendance may have been disappointed to not have heard more songs from Grace for Drowning or The Raven That Refused to Sing laced into his set, the insane amount of applause between songs said to me that even the most disappointed of attendees were still left with sticky underwear by the time his set concluded.
Given how dismal and distraught the majority of Wilson’s music is, one might expect a live performance of his to be somewhat standoffish and emotionally disconnected, but it managed to hit a happy medium. Sure, a lot of songs performed last night were extremely dark and depressive in terms of musical tone and subject matter, but these bouts were contrasted by Wilson’s light-hearted stage banter between songs, talking about how fans initially perceived the Porcupine Tree song “Lazarus” to be a sell-out move that sounded like Coldplay, how his manager had told him how sad and tortured his music was, and saying “That’s a rhetorical question. We don’t take requests…” after he had asked “What to play for you…?” during the encore. I interpreted these gestures as a sort of emotional defense mechanism, because after being hit one after another with these intensely poignant songs, the time in between songs could have been dead silent with apathy, but instead Wilson wanted the audience to be lulled in and out of these melancholic states he put them in track after track.
As far as the sonic side of things went, it was absolutely fantastic. The chemistry between the band was incredibly tight, and their interplay was immeasurable, as the members were pushing each other to their absolute limits. The individual playing was on point, and the soloing from touring guitarist Dave Kilminster was just as mind-melting live as you would hope. Aside from one or two brief instances of shrill peaking coming from the keyboard and vocals, the sound clarity in the Moore Theatre was fantastic, with every note ringing perfectly clear. Given how complicated and intricate the songs on Hand. Cannot. Erase. are, the sound needed to be entirely audible and properly mixed in order to get the full experience live, and it’s fair to say that was accomplished and then some.
If there’s anything you can say about Steven Wilson’s live performance, it’s that it is immaculately paced. There’s a reason that pretty much every setlist for the Hand. Cannot. Erase. Tour looks exactly the same when you compare them, because Wilson knows that this is the perfect collection of songs and the perfect order to keep the audience on their toes all throughout. Minutes-long moments in which the audience is pulled into a hypnotic, out-of-body lull as the band keeps to themselves were contrasted beautifully by moments in which the audience is pretty immediately bitch-slapped out of their delirium by these loud, over-the-top rock passages in which the band is working the stage and the dozens of lights are doing a passable impression of the Hindenburg disaster. Songs off of other albums of Wilson’s were carefully placed at certain intervals in the set where they would feel right at home. The decision to not book any vaguely-relevant, half-baked opening bands to “warm the crowd up” was a genius one, as the audience could be spellbound by the live performance they were there to see from beginning to end.
It wasn’t just the audio side of things that was breathtaking to experience, the visuals that were provided perfectly complimented the live performance. Short films made to accommodate several tracks were played all throughout the performance, whether it was during the Hand. Cannot. Erase. tracks, pieces from Grace for Drowning, or the massive crowd-pleaser, the closing track, “The Raven That Refused to Sing”. At around the halfway point of the performance, everything went pitch black as all of a sudden an animated, stop-motion short film was being projected onto a silk screen, which acted as another enhancement of the massive amount of lights they had throughout the set, and which persisted until the very end, when it dropped shortly following their closing track.
Everything about last night’s Steven Wilson concert was just as artsy, showy, grand, and enveloping as you would expect and hope it would be. The sound was fantastic, the musicianship and interplay was incredible, and the show on the whole just never ceased to amaze. Wilson could’ve probably played for several hours after they had stopped, and the crowd would’ve been just as enamoured as they were towards its inception. It was the sort of show where anyone who was there could go on for hours about every little nuance throughout, and it was the sort of live show you had to have been there to believe.
Everyone leaving the Moore Theatre last night was left with only one question on their mind: “So, was that the best thing I’ve ever seen, or the absolute unequivocal fucking best thing I’ve ever seen?”
And because one review of this amazing show is probably not enough, view Peter Dervin’s review HERE