Steven Wilson - Royal Albert Hall
27th March 2018 (with Neil Jellis)
48 hours after the Yes 50 gig I made my way to the Royal Albert Hall on the first of three nights of Steven Wilson. My ticket had been organised by a friend back in May 2017, a couple of days after Wilson had begun to put out videos of his new music. This was before I’d got a hint of the direction the forthcoming album was taking. Thinking back now, Pariah, one of the first tracks I heard, forms a kind of a sonic link between Hand.Cannot.Erase and new album To the Bone and I don’t think it’s a bad song; it just doesn’t challenge me. At the end of June 2017 he released the video for Permanating and I wasn’t impressed.
On the walk up to the Albert Hall doors I was still optimistic that the set would include sufficient material from The Raven that Refused to Sing and Hand.Cannot.Erase to provide a worthwhile evening of entertainment, having previously seen him play on a number of occasions and apart from the Wilson show I attended at the Royal Albert Hall in September 2015 where I was unfamiliar with well over half of the material, I’ve enjoyed his performances. However, the shift from the full-on prog of The Raven that Refused to Sing to the post-rock blend of electronica, industrial and a good enough dose of prog on Hand.Cannot.Erase should have indicated, especially when backed-up by Wilson’s own words concerning his musical influences together with his immutable right as an artist to make whatever music he wants, that the music on To the Bone and the live material making up the subsequent tour to promote that album was not going to be wall-to-wall progressive rock.
The show started on a promising note with another clever though slightly disturbing video, announced in a rather stern voice as if narrating a public service broadcast, reflecting the themes of the current album. Ninet Tayeb was introduced for Pariah but even her excellent voice didn’t really do anything for me; I did enjoy Home Invasion which segued into Regret #9 which I thought were the highlights of the evening. It’s possible that the behaviour of a pair of loudmouths behind me, talking for the entire first set and a couple in front behaving as though they were very, very drunk throughout the whole show, affected my ability to enjoy the music but in the second set, just before the rendition of Permanating, Wilson delivered a speech about making the music he wanted to, which just happened to include his desire to record an unbridled, joyous pop song and he hoped that the tattooed and bearded gents in their Opeth T-shirts would stand up and submit to the euphoria and maybe dance a few steps. To be fair to a large portion of the audience, they did get on their feet but I, bearded, yes, but interested in neither Opeth or tattoos, remained seated, unmoved by what is indisputably a potentially infectious pop structure.
For much of the rest of the gig I found the sound a bit blurred and indistinguishable; it wasn’t that it was over-loud but it was quite heavy and it wasn’t until the third encore, The Raven that Refused to Sing that my gloom lifted a little.
I can’t fault the musicianship or the presentation and I certainly can’t criticise Wilson for changing the form of music he writes. That the songs played on that Tuesday night weren’t to my satisfaction is no one’s fault but a matter of personal taste and I’m not going to burn any of the Wilson CDs that I own because I didn’t like this show. I’m simply not going to commit to buying a ticket for the tour of his next album until I’ve heard the next album.
I’d just completed a marathon five concerts in 19 days, including two trips to Italy to see bands; maybe gig fatigue was setting in...
This review was taken from a now-lost blog posted as ‘Gig Marathon (part 3)’ on 24th April 2018, with its own subsection ‘New king of pop’.