Concert Review: Steven Wilson at The Palladium in Worcester, MA
Reviewed by: B. Cross
Steven Wilson’s name has been legend among progressive rock aficionados for many years now, and his current tour in support of his latest concept work Hand. Cannot. Erase. drew quite a diverse crowd to the Palladium. Old-school proggers in Rush shirts stood side-by-side with longhairs sporting Emperor patch-laden battle vests. That’s how much Wilson’s music means to people, and when you hear it, you’ll understand. (I should also note that for once, I wasn’t the oldest guy in attendance. That’s always a nice change of pace.)
Wilson’s set was comprised of nearly all of Hand. Cannot. Erase., kicking off with an extended intro into “First Regret,” moving down the line in proper order. Highlights included the title track and “Perfect Life,” not to mention the powerful “Routine.” Of course, the show wasn’t just Hand. Cannot. Erase.; the performance was interspersed with a few older tracks from Wilson’s solo career as well as his lauded Porcupine Tree compositions. From eloquent soundscapes to hard-hitting riffs with enough crunch to rattle the floorboards, Wilson and his immensely talented backing band shone a new light on earlier works like “Harmony Korine” alongside new material such as “Ancestral.” The set list was so well crafted that even the older songs felt like they belonged with the new pieces, forging one melodic whole that was far more than the sum of its parts.
As a multi-instrumentalist, Wilson switched up between guitar, bass, and keyboard throughout the set, with his unique voice threading through everything. A little stage banter and dry wit was of course welcome, as Wilson spoke of his inspirations while explaining the serious stories he was trying to tell in musical form; or, as the man himself so aptly put it, “We’re going to play miserable music with smiles on our faces.”
Wilson’s compositions are such that you don’t want to lose a single piece in a live setting due to sound problems, and thankfully no such issues occurred. It was far more than just mixing instruments through the PA, too; the crowd was treated to a performance in proper surround sound, as additional loudspeakers were set up in the rear of the venue, and the sound overall was perfect. A massive screen behind the band – and later a veil in front of the stage – made for an intense multimedia presentation, enhancing the music with thought-provoking stills and video. These ran the gamut from poignant to depressing to goddamned terrifying. When you see a man with roots for fingers and a tree stump for a head sprout a massive tongue, and it’s not the creepiest thing you’ve seen all evening, you begin to wonder if Wilson dislikes the idea of his audience getting a good night’s sleep.
Having said all that, despite the disturbing nature of some of the imagery, every single piece fit the music perfectly. Danish artist (and longtime Wilson collaborator) Lasse Hoile created the multimedia work, and his style truly charts its own path. I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to realizing Wilson’s vision. It really brings a new element to the music, and after seeing it live, it’s hard to imagine the tunes without their accompanying images.
As if all of this weren’t enough, after the Hand. Cannot. Erase. portion of the show was complete, next up was an impressive dual encore. Beginning with “The Watchmaker” and Porcupine Tree’s “Sleep Together,” then ending with “The Raven That Refused to Sing,” the night drew to a close with as much emotional punch as when it began.
Wilson and crew’s stunning performance was one for the ages. Go get Hand. Cannot. Erase. if you haven’t already, and move heaven and Earth if you must in order to attend one of those shows. It’ll stick in your brain for weeks and months to come, and that’s always a good thing when it comes to music.