Porcupine Tree @ Sound Academy, Toronto, ON, May 8, 2010

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Live review by Natalie Zed, Concert photography by Adam Wills

In order for me to discuss this show, I need to first visit The Incident. In an interview, Steven Wilson expressed his dismay with the phrase “the incident” and the way the phrase was often deployed to distance and dehumanize. He was troubled by the way that word is used to transform traumatic, “seismic” events into something sterile and reportable. It is also an empty word, a placeholder, a euphemism that retains a sense of ominousness but that does not actually do any writing itself. “The incident” is all signifier, no signified, nothing being inscribed. So, in retaliation, Porcupine Tree took this word, this empty word and filled it: with sound, with images, with contexts. Whereas the phrase “the incident” seeks to erase and expunge specific, human details from events, The Incident reintroduces those details.

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Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

I have been listening to The Incident on and off since September; it is haunting. And I do not use the word “haunting” here in a purely descriptive or abstract way, either. This album has been a smell that will not leave my clothes, a sense of being followed, a few bars I hum over and over for days. As such, I have a deep affection for it, but also a sense of unease. The Incident has a knack for putting an aural finger on whatever sore spot I am carrying around at the time. This is not an album that grants me any peace (despite it’s apparent tenderness). I went to this show because I was genuinely excited to see a band whose music I enjoy; I also went in an attempt to better understand this album, and to hopefully exorcise some of the power it holds over me.

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

I was prepared. I went with other people. I was fuelled by red meat and enough beer to make me brave but not so much I’d let my guard down. And still. And still this concert slammed into me. Like I’d worn water wings, expecting they’d protect me against the force of a Tsunami.

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Were this simply an auditory barrage (which I am more than familiar with), I might have had more resistance. But it was much more than that. This show was a carefully orchestrated, beautifully curated performance. The video accompaniment interesting and tasteful, and varied enough that I was never able to settle fully into it or anticipate what was coming next. The images were sometimes strange and dream-sequence-like, at other times more like a classical music video, and again sometimes simply an accompanying image—like a spray of stars during “Stars Die.” The lighting effects dovetailed beautifully with the video, such as when strobe effects were used to emphasize choppy, disorienting quick-cuts, or a steadily brightening white light used to intensify the effect of a train barrelling towards the audience. Despite the visual interest of the show, none of the effects detracted from or overshadowed the music. All the other effects served the sound and made the audience more receptive.

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

The performance was dominated by The Incident, which the band played in its entirety (barring a couple of tracks from the second, “bonus” disc). The performance therefore took on the character of this album: a combination of urgency and tenderness with a strong undercurrent of discomfort. Highlights from this intense first section were: “Drawing the Line,” the driving rhythm of which provided some breathless relief from pent-up anxiety; and “I Drive The Hearse,” which is even more gently devastating live than it is on the album. The band took a ten-minute break after The Incident; for the ten minutes they spend offstage, a digital countdown was projected onto the video screen. After the intense discomfiture and awful sweetness of the first section, I felt as unnerved as the building was wired to explode when the clock reached zero.

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

The second half of the performance featured representation from Lightbulb Sun, Fear of a Blank Planet, and The Sky Moves Sideways. The energy in the room was more scattered, almost schizophrenic during this part of the show. After the unified aesthetic of the first half, this section of the performance felt less focussed—though mercifully so. The variation also served to make the experience less overwhelming. I particularly enjoyed “Anaesthetize,” “Way Out Of Here,” and “Normal.” Both pieces from the encore came from In Absentia: “Blackest Eyes” and “Trains.”

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

The audience response to this entire show, but especially the encore, struck me as strange, at first. Everyone was almost unnaturally still, with the exception of some manic swaying and head bobbing (and one memorable tribal dance performed by a young man who had long since abandoned his sobriety). While it would hardly have been appropriate for a circle pit to form, it still added to my rather delicious sense of unease about the entire performance. Then, near the end, as a train on the screen drew closer and a stark white light grew brighter, it hit me. We were all as stunned as animals caught in a truck’s headlights, unable to save ourselves, unwilling to move ourselves out of the way. About to be struck, we could only stare in awe. Because, despite the damage the impact could cause, it was still beautiful. Disarmingly, awfully beautiful.

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Porcupine Tree by Adam Wills

 

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.

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  • Franklin

    My feelings exactly!

  • Lindsey

    Very similar set to the one in September at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. There were some nice little embellishments to The Incident that the band added to the set which kept it sounding fresh. Personally,Iwould say the sound was better at the QE( less banter by the audience during the set for one) but the band were as tight as ever. The audience was more familiar with the material this time around, because last time, they visited the album had only been out a couple of weeks. Better venue- hands down the QE, but the band doesn’t like to play to audience members who are sitting down, so I’m sure they prefered playing the Sound Academy.

  • Karel

    Exactly the feeling I had when I saw them play the entire Incident. It was a very involving experience, like being soaked into another world. The audience was dead silent during The Incident, which is just right. The 2nd set proved to be a much lighter affair, to hear the old favourites and a few happy tracks. Best gig I’ve ever been to, and I’ve seen PT 6 times before already.

  • @Karel “Dead silent”? Maybe I didn’t sing along to every word loud enough for you!!!? 😛
    I listened to the Incident every day for about 100 days when it came out, AND I saw them perform it at the Queen Elizabeth as well as the Sound Academy.

    Great shows, great album, great band.

  • Yasmin

    I was with that manic lol That show was something else… Best Live performance I’ve EVER seen.
    First time seeing PT live and certainly won’t be the last. Occam’s Razor was incredible, but so was the whole damn show. What an experience.

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