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Concert Review: Steven Wilson at The Vic in Chicago, May 1st, 2018

Written by Chris Pritchett on May 5th, 2018

Cover image taken by Elias Mereb

I just arrived home from a long day of airport hopping, and am finally sitting down to write up this review. Sleep deprived, and still working through everything that happened during my those two days in Chicago, Illinois. Spent with my best friend and fellow music blogger over on The Musical Pantry, seeing the one and only Steven Wilson perform at The Vic.

Marquee at The Vic in Chicago, taken by Chris Pritchett

It has been at least two years since I last saw him perform at this wonderful little venue, situated among restaurants and a surprising amount of record shops. While the staff is hit or miss, and security is some of the strictest I have ever encountered, the venue itself is beautiful. Fitting, for such a show. Even if we didn’t really need the seats for the pure energy of the two evenings (pointed out by Steven himself who promised no more seated shows after this tour, albeit appreciated by me this ONE TIME at one point as you’ll read about in the day two review).

Before I begin, let me leave a word of warning… I do talk about the setlist in this concert review. So if you’re looking to avoid spoilers for the show you might be attending, allow me to summarize real quick how day one of Steven Wilson’s To The Bone tour in Chicago went down:

It was mind blowing, and brings a new appreciation to the hotly debated new album. Don’t like it? Seeing it live, and feeling the energy from the crowd might sway you a little bit to the liking it side. The chemistry with the current touring band is the best I have seen to date. While Nick Beggs and Adam Holzman are seasoned musicians within Steven’s solo work, Craig Blundell has settled in perfectly. A beast behind the drum kit, and bringing something to the music that drummers before him didn’t. A different set of skills, and chops that sit him at the top of the drumming world with the past greats. Alex Hutchings is a perfect fit a well, bringing his own skill set in the absence of Dave Kilminster from the last tour. Both vastly different, and great guitarists all on their own.

Okay, everyone out of the room who doesn’t want spoilers? Good. Let’s continue.

 

Right off the bat, allow me to talk about the opening set by former Mansun frontman and new Kscope star Paul Draper. I’ve enjoyed his solo EPs as well as his solo album ‘Spooky Action’ immensely. So much so I have been slowly working back into the Mansun catalogue. His set was very stripped down, with just himself and another guitarist, which¬†gave a new edge to a number of his songs. Mansun classics from the newly reissued ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’, and newer tracks such as “Friends Make the Worst Enemies” from ‘Spooky Action’, have a new live given to them in this stripped down set up. A short set, but one that offered a nice taste of what Paul Draper has to offer to those not yet familiar with his current project, or past catalogue. A perfect beginning to the evening, really. Setting the mellow tone nicely.

Photo of the stage, pre-show, taken by Chris

A quick break between, and across the stage a screen is moved. Something many Steven Wilson fans are familiar with if you’ve seen him live (be it in person or through a live DVD like ‘Get All You Deserve’). A movie shown to “judge how you will react to this evening”. Delightful in the beginning, but soon warping into something darker. Discomfort, perhaps, settling in your chest as words and images that once matched are jumbled. A sign of the times, especially in America. Political in nature, which follows some of the themes found in the new album. Soon quelled the first night by the second track from ‘To The Bone’. “Nowhere Now” is a song you can dance to. One you need to stand up and let loose to, despite us not being allowed due to elitist sitting behind us yelling at just us to sit down, and security being called over by them to tell us to sit down. If you’re reading this, you know who you are and I am still very cross with you for ruining the fun of many people.

But I digress… This is a review, not a rant.

“Pariah” brought the joyous feeling down a notch, but with the screen still across the stage, we were graced with the beautiful visage of Ninet Tayeb singing her vocal parts on the screen, as the band played. The visuals were stunning. Mirroring the greys and bright bursts of colour from the music video. Followed swiftly after by the ever fantastic pairing of tracks “Home Invasion” and “Regret #9”. The same visuals from the Hand. Cannot. Erase. tour, but who is going to complain about seeing such a brilliantly shot visual once more?

A surprise to myself, as well as many there, was when the cry of a guitar and familiar snaps of a snare and heavy bass harkened a Porcupine Tree song. What, you might ask? “The Creator Has A Mastertape” from 2002’s ‘In Absentia’! The current touring band nailed this. Craig is a beast behind his elaborate drum rig. Nick is a bass god (we all know this by now I believe). Adam is brilliant as always…

But what about the newcomer, Alex Hutchings? Filling some big shoes left behind by Dave Kilminster from the last tour. Well, Dave took those shoes with him. Alex brought his own. His style meshes perfectly (more so if there’s such a thing) with the band. With the Porcupine Tree track, and Steven’s solo works. This song alone proved it to me, as I was more awe struck with watching him than Steven or any of the others for a good while during “The Creator Has A Mastertape”. I missed the boat on Porcupine Tree while they were together, and have only been able to see them via live DVDs. The current touring band might actually be my favourite group for the tracks. Fight me. They bring a new feeling to the music. A good feeling.

After such a powerful track, came a softer point. The first round of tears for the evening from me. “Refuge” from ‘To The Bone’ is heartbreaking lyrically. Live? It is even more powerful. Paired with visuals of a beach, littered with life jackets, toys, and damaged photos of people. It drives home the awful things happening in certain countries. Tragedies happening to families trying to escape the horrors of war. Even now, while listening to a playlist I made of the songs from the first night, I am nearly in tears from it.

Taking a turn after that, and a bit of banter about a lovely punk-oriented song, we were treated to a new music video by Jess Cope, and the ever-powerful “People Who Eat Darkness”. It is a track to dance to. One you can’t help but move to, or be enraptured by the Frank Miller-esque music video for the song playing behind the band. This video… I won’t spoil it. It’s too great to, and I hope they release it once the first leg of the tour is finished.

Another great track from ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase’ brought the first half of the night to a close. The epic “Ancestral”. A song that since the first time I heard it live in 2016 has been a favourite to hear live. Alex, once again, brought a new spice to the song that made it even better.

Still with me? If so, we were treated to another Porcupine Tree song at the beginning of the second half. Hinted at in the tour documentary released a number of weeks ago. “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” from ‘Deadwing’. Something I was truly excited to hear live. Just as the second song. In which Steven demanded everyone stand because it was a “disco dancing” song. Professing his love for pop and the humour of how even the burliest of Opeth shirt wearers and grumpiest of King Crimson shirt wearers even got up to dance to it, we were launched right into the single most divisive track he has released to date. Love it or hate it, “Permanating” is made for live performances. It WILL get you in a good mood. It WILL get you on your feet. It WILL make you want to dance. I know I did. I danced like a fool. So did my friend. And the whole venue. (I found out later from some old friends that they spotted me during that song from the back I was dancing so wildly. Sorry not even sorry for everyone who had to witness that.)

Though decidedly darker in content, “Song of I” is another track made for dancing. A slower, more seductive kind of dancing. It’s quite easy to lose one’s self in the post-punk Depeche Mode-y sound of the track. If I remember correctly (it’s been a few days and my memory is messed up from night two as you’ll read later), I saw a bow taken to a guitar. Steal my heart, I live for a bow drug across guitar strings. The visuals for this song as well reflect the dark nature of the song, and seductive soundscape. Countering this after was the tour staple of “Lazarus”. Still just as lovely as the first time I heard it in 2016.

“Detonation” is another song that brings a new visual, strange yet fitting. The mood lifted after the previously heavier track by “The Same Asylum As Before”. Debuting a new video (perhaps another future music video) by Lasse Hoile. A personal favourite track from ‘To The Bone’ for me, and it was nice to see a familiar creature from a past music video return for this one. No spoilers, because the video is brilliant. I will say this, I freaked out when I saw the creature, and so did my friend.

Another Porcupine Tree track from the archives (thanks to the reissues of ‘In Absentia’ and ‘Deadwing’ this year) was “Heartattack in a Layby”. One of my favourites from ‘In Absentia’, and one I did not expect to hear live. Beautiful and melancholic. “Vermillioncore” followed after. The jazzy track leaving us, once again, dancing. At least me and my friend. One can’t help but dance to such a bassline and drumming. The same goes for the ever dark yet still oddly sexy “Sleep Together”.

Was that the end of the night? Oh no. The encore brought us just Steven. Walking out on stage with a tiny tube amp, which he explained he had to warm up. And he did. On stage. With us. Joking the whole time. For what, you might ask? “Even Less”. A solo performance of the even older PT song. No matter how often he might say he isn’t a great guitar player, I choose to ignore that statement, because he is brilliant.

The ending of the night nigh, I expected the usual final track that I had seen a few times, but was surprised to hear the night end on a slow but uplifting note. The final track from ‘To The Bone’, paired with a visual that brought me to tears. “Song of Unborn” is just as beautiful as “The Raven That Refused To Sing” live. Leaving you with a little bit of hope. That song for the children yet born. The young souls who will, one day, change the world. Hopefully for the better.

That first night of two in Chicago left me in a state of mind that I hadn’t been able to find in so very long. Happy. Hopeful. Excited for the next night, as Steven had promised us a completely different setlist. Riding high on waves of joy, we hung out after the show, as always. Making friends and talking about the show. Oh, how I had yet to realize then that the next night would make me feel things I hadn’t been able to in so long as well.

Since the second night hit me much more personally than the first, I’m putting it in a separate review over on my own music page, The Musical Pantry. A page I run with my best friend, where we share music that we enjoy of the prog and not-prog varieties. If you want to read it (and learn a little bit more behind why Steven Wilson’s music means so much to me personally), click the link below and it will take you to the page. I won’t ask for a like, but if you want to, go ahead. If not, that cool. Leave us a comment saying you came from World Prog-Nation!

Day two review of Steven Wilson’s “To The Bone” tour in Chicago, exclusively on The Musical Pantry.