I Listen CO

I Listen, CO

Porcupine Tree. Bellco Theatre. 09.25.22

Before “Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled,” Steven Wilson asked who had been around since the beginning. Many people started to cheer. “I don’t believe you. You’re lying,” he laughed. I did not cheer. I have been aware of Porcupine Tree since the mid-00s, but I am a relatively recent fan. Until Applewhite’s crazy-looking mug came up on the screen, I didn’t even know the voice on the song was that of the cult leader espousing his theories via “Do’s Final Exit,” although I should have. I lived a few miles from the house where the mass suicides occurred and watched them load the bodies (or “vehicles”) into a large truck that night…but I digress.

Porcupine Tree has been around for twenty-five years but has been on a hiatus since touring The Incident in 2010. The band never broke up, but Steven Wilson’s primary focus became his solo career. Leading up to the show, I spoke with many people who had heard of the band but couldn’t tell me where they were from (England), what kind of music they play (progressive slash experimental rock slash metal), or what songs they sang (“Train,” “Lazarus,” and “Blackest Eyes” being arguably the most popular, with “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” and “Anesthetize” being arguably among the best). I was met with blank stares when I brought up my favorite Steven Wilson solo work. Instead of saying many people I interact with have lousy taste in music, I will go with the kinder claim that they are limited in their knowledge.

For a band with a large (but specific) following touring for the first time in twelve years, it was unexpected that they would make a stop in Denver on their short nine-date U.S. tour. It was a welcome surprise, however.

The line to get into the Bellco Theatre was substantial two hours before the show started. I was there to pick up my photo pass and overheard people who had traveled from New York, following the band across the country. VIPs were allowed entry early to collect their goodie bags and pick up merch before the regulars arrived. The anticipation was intense among those waiting for this show for years, knowing it was never guaranteed (or even likely) to happen. I’ve heard it’s better to have one great friend than a bunch of ok friends. I think Steven Wilson is the type of guy who would second that opinion, so I doubt there was any heartache when the show didn’t sell out in Denver, mainly because the following shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles were sure to be packed. A last-minute choice was made to close off the balcony, causing fans to be handed tickets to better seats in the orchestra by ushers on entry; putting them closer to their friends on stage.

The performance started just after 8:00 pm. Situated at the soundboard as the crowd below was bathed in blue, I thought something was different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As the music built and Steven Wilson, Richard Barbieri, Gavin Harrison, and newcomers Rand McStine and Nate Navarro became silhouettes on the stage, I realized what was off. The phones. The crowd was dark—no lit-up screens. No distractions. Just an eager sea of people waiting anxiously, as they had been for twelve years. There were signs all around the venue asking people to respectfully refrain from using phones during the performance, and there was not a single person breaking the rule. When the bald blue man came to life on the large screen, and the band busted into “Blackest Eyes,” I doubt anyone even remembered they had a phone in their pocket. It was 2002 again, and cell phones were made for making calls, not recording concerts.

It is going to be a long show,” Steven announced, “we are going to perform the entire new album.” With many bands, that would be the last thing you would want to hear, but CLOSURE / CONTINUATION is solid, and with the performance comprising two complete sets and an encore, there was plenty of time for older material.

The first set stretched across the first half of CLOSURE, along with “Even Less” from Stupid Dream, “Drown With Me,” and “The Sound of Muzak” from In Absentia (with an intro from Steven about how he predicted the future of commoditization of music ten years ago “thank god that didn’t happen!”), and the aforementioned “Last Chance To Evacuate…” from Lightbulb Sun. Steven experienced some issues with his guitar before “Even Less,” which caused him much frustration, “I would use a sexual metaphor, but I’m not going to go there.” The guitar only sounded off from the front of the stage during the intro. The following selections called for an acoustic guitar, and the issue seemed to be fixed for “Chimera’s Wreck,” but a whole crew was working on his pedals during the intermission.

After a short break, the second set opened with “Fear of a Blank Planet,” the first selection from the album of the same name, an album that dominated the second half of the show. Numb, drugged-out kids with guns plastered the screen above while the band played the role of the therapist to the misunderstood youth of days past. “I used to write depressing songs; now I just write miserable songs.” After finishing the new material with “Herd Culling,” Steven gave instructions on how to enjoy the eighteen-minute “Anesthetize.” “You must pace yourself. I prefer you stand the whole time, but I understand it is hard to stand for a three-hour show.” Someone in the audience yelled something to which he responded, “I am speaking,” then pointing at himself, “British. Polite.” Overall, the audience was free to do whatever they liked. Still, the recommendation was that standing was optional for the first section, recommended for the middle “metally” part, and sitting down was probably best for the last “ambient” section. Most people stood the entire time.

Having been at the soundboard earlier in the night and seeing the schedule that clearly stated, “HARD CURFEW: 11:00PM,” I was slightly nervous when the set ended with “Sleep Together” at 10:58 pm. At best, I thought we might get a single song encore. That was not the case, though. Steven and Richard were back on the keys within a few minutes to perform “Collapse the Light Into Earth” before the other guys joined them for the sole Deadwing song of the night, “Halo.”

Steven apologized for the technical issues he experienced earlier and explained why they couldn’t perform everyone’s favorite song but expressed hope that the crowd enjoyed themselves. Then he teased a medley of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Freebird,” etc., before performing “Trains” (“a song everyone seems to love even though it was never a single or anything.”) to close out an epic performance that was a long time coming and may or may not be their last in Denver, Colorado.

Porcupine Tree Setlist: Blackest Eyes, Harridan, Of the New Day, Rats Return, Even Less, Drown With Me, Dignity, The Sound of Muzak, Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled, Chimera’s Wreck, Fear of a Blank Planet, Buying New Soul, Walk the Plank, Sentimental, Herd Culling, Anesthetize, Sleep Together, Collapse the Light Into Earth, Halo, Trains