Midway through this year’s Prog Awards, Steven Wilson confessed to being a bit starstruck next to the man presenting him with the Album Of The Year award, Matt Berry. Tonight it’s Berry’s turn to be overawed as he scans a sold-out venue.
The musician-actor-comedian makes the minimum of quips, and when someone yells out “Toast!” he says there’ll be none just yet. Later, he declares, “I wanna dedicate this song to Clem Fandango,” before playing the theme to the show that won him a BAFTA this year. It’s a too-short set, needlessly bolstered by lighter material when Berry has the most perfect audience to soak up his prog folk flights of fancy. Consequently, the pastoral-classical suite Solstice – intro’d as “Last night of the Progs!” – and Korg-heavy psychedelic opus *The Pheasant *get the heartiest whoops. A lesson learned, hopefully.
Jesus, that’s creepy. And we’re not talking Steven Wilson’s big ol’ bare feet again. A giant hooded backdrop figure looms to the drone of Bass Communion warm-up Cenotaph as Wilson’s band assemble for No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun. First to step up is current drummer Craig Blundell, soon joined by familiar bodies Nick Beggs and Adam Holzman, before another new boy, Dave Kilminster, replacing his pal Guthrie Govan on guitar. When Wilson appears, acoustic of axe, ABBA of tee, we settle back for an evening very different to his previous night here, which was Hand. Cannot. Erase. in its entirety.
Mixing solo work with P-Tree surprises (Shesmovedon is a nicely beefed-up highlight), there’s a danger of peaking too soon as Routine is reprised with a powerful and heartbreaking vocal performance by Ninet Tayeb that prompts the first of many standing ovations.
“This is a celebration of my generation,” Wilson states, addressing online rumours of veteran guest spots, and welcoming Guthrie Govan and Theo Travis to the stage for a main section that takes in a gorgeous Drive Home and the psychodramatic chiller Raider II.
Although the recruitment of Kilminster and (the amazing) Blundell adds some superb rock grist to proceedings, the place almost explodes with joy when Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison tips up for a gauzy Lazarus. “Can you remember how to play it?” Wilson jokes as they finish with their Crosby, Stills & Nash moment, The Sound Of Muzak. He can, and does so with oceans of class, just like his peers.