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Say what you like about the live music experience, it’s impossible not to appreciate a night of being blown away by the sheer brilliance of an individual at their craft. Take that saying and multiply it by 5, and you have what Steven Wilson and his band of four very jet lagged gentlemen treated Sydney’s Enmore Theatre to on Friday night.
With last years To The Bone LP seeing Steven Wilson take his inaccessible progressive rock sound up to number 1 on the British charts (knocking off the little known Ed Sheeran), he’s long been touted as the “most famous musician you’ve never heard of”, perhaps more deserving of the title now than ever. Given that he slotted his conceptually dazzling prog-fest in between no less than six upcoming Gang of Youths shows in Sydney, it’s a wonder that an audience as diverse (both age and gender wise) exists for this kind of music.
Yet it was a packed theatre (albeit the front half was entirely seated by choice of management) that greeted Wilson and co. as they kicked off the evening with Nowhere Now, a sweeping, simple anthem that helped the band loosen up for the insanity to come.
It was a sad reminder of how far gone the appreciation for the arts are in a city like Sydney; yet it was impossible to not sing the final lines of Don’t be afraid to be alive and walk away feeling anything but inspiration and optimism.
In true progressive fashion there was no support act, so cuts Home Invasion & Ancestral got a run in all their 15 minute glory. Both of these tunes showed off the magnificence of the band Wilson has assembled for this musical chapter. Bassist Nick Beggs (John Paul Jones, The Mute Gods) and drummer Craig Blundell (Frost*) were solid in the loosest sense, given the polyrhythms and constant time changes they had to navigate, supporting dazzling solos by Adam Holzman (Miles Davis, Marcus Miller) & Alex Hutchings.
The night was not without its fair share of Porcupine Tree classics, a surprise given the resistance shown by Wilson in the past regarding playing his old material. Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, Lazarus and the headbanging Sleep Together all received their runs to the delight of the throng assembled. The Creator Has a Mastertape was also slipped on the end of Regret #9, holding up perfectly with Wilson’s more recent material.
However, this was no night for old timers when it came to Wilsons rich and expansive back catalogue. To The Bone was given a solid airing, with both Pariah and Refuge powerfully soaring to dizzying heights, whilst Song of I boldly delved into experimental hip-hop territory, capped off with some masterful pedal work.
Permanating was always going to be a polarising point of the night, something which Wilson flagged well in advance. “It’s fucking weird seeing Australians sitting down—I’ll be asking you to stand for some disco dancing later on”, Wilson warned. He needn’t have worried, with the crowd flooding the small area at the front of the stage before the start of the second act, catering as a mini dancefloor when the 4-to-floor of perhaps Wilson’s boldest career move kicked into gear.
“We have loads more music to play for you, but unfortunately we have a strict 11pm curfew” said Wilson apologetically when the band returned for Song Of Unborn to close the three hour set. It was a sad reminder of how far gone the appreciation for the arts are in a city like Sydney; yet it was impossible to not sing the final lines of Don’t be afraid to be alive and walk away feeling anything but inspiration and optimism. “I’ve written a whole bunch of joyus pop music to convince people I’m not miserable”, joked Wilson at the start of the night. It sure as hell rubbed off on those in attendance for this tour.