This is arguably the most ambitious and challenging tour of Steven Wilson’s career; current album Hand. Cannot. Erase has taken him to a new level.
Now, he has to match his studio quality onstage. Tonight, in his first Edinburgh appearance for nearly two decades, he more than matches the anticipation of a capacity crowd with a sublime performance, something he’s been doing nightly on this sold-out UK tour.
One of adulation and expectation. The Queen’s Hall is small compared to other venues Wilson is playing on this tour, which means there’s more interaction between the audience and the man onstage. For instance, when Wilson admits he has no idea when he last played in Edinburgh, someone helpfully shouts out “1997”, which he gratefully acknowledges. In fact, Wilson appears to love responding to anything shouted out, as it gives him the chance for spontaneity. For the most part, everyone is caught up in the extraordinary performance, erupting in huge acclaim only at the end.
This is possibly the finest performance of Wilson’s career to date. The backdrop of constant video footage augments, rather than overshadows, the musicians: it’s a symbiotic relationship between the visuals and the music. Wilson himself is relaxed and more at ease onstage than he has ever been. His relationship with the other members of the band is revealing: while some frontmen stalk the stage as if it belongs only to them, Wilson has the air of someone determined to be inclusive. He appears to use the talents of those around to inspire him to even greater heights. “Well, they are all better musicians than me!” he confesses later, without a hint of irony.
Much of the set is drawn from superb new album Hand. Cannot. Erase., but this is augmented by selected tracks from his back catalogue, all of which fit into the themes of the new release. Lazarus and The Raven That Refused To Sing blend seamlessly into the overall ideology. “I do sit down and work it all out, but as I’ve written so many songs about the same themes I’m exploring on the new album, it’s not a tough task,” Wilson says.
There’s also great attention to detail. For instance, he has a Rolodex onstage, acknowledging the song Index, while The Watchmaker and Sleep Together are performed from behind a net that covers the front of the stage. It gives everything a distant sense of surrealism, adding to the unique impact.
As for the band, Wilson sticks with unquestionably the best line-up he ever assembled. From bassist Nick Beggs to guitarist Guthrie Govan, drummer Marco Minnemann, keyboard player Adam Holzman and flautist/saxophonist Theo Travis, this is an assembled crew of virtuosos, all of whom sublimate their own abilities to fit smoothly into the overall sound. Such is Wilson’s determination to go the extra few miles to ensure he’s as close to perfection as possible, that he chooses to use a recording of Israeli popstar Ninet Tayeb’s vocals for Routine, rather than bringing someone along to approximate her impact.
Thrilling. Dramatic. Euphoric. This will easily be one of the most memorable tours of 2015.
THE SET LIST
3 Years Older
Hand Cannot Erase
Regret Number 9
Ascendant Here On…
_The Raven That Refused To Sing _
Hand. Cannot. Erase. is out now via Kscope. See stevenwilsonhq.com for more info.