Review: Porcupine Tree’s Expansive Live Album Shows Progressive Rock’s Alive and Well

Videos by American Songwriter

Porcupine Tree
(Music for Nations/Megaforce)
4 out of 5 stars

Fans of the longstanding contemporary progressive rock band Porcupine Tree who might have thought their days were over can now rejoice. This expansive, two-and-a-half hour, 21-song, live CD/DVD captures all the twisty time signatures, thunderous widescreen intensity and drama one would expect from the Steven Wilson-led UK outfit.

As prog-tock fans know, Wilson is an auteur with a thriving solo career as a musician, acclaimed expert remixer (often rejiggering Dolby Atmos versions of older progressive/art-rock fare) and producer. So it came as a surprise when he re-formed his popular outfit Porcupine Tree to record the potent Closure/Continuation in 2022 after having left the band dormant since its last set of originals, The Incident, was released in 2009. The ensuing live tour featured two other longtime PT members, drummer Gavin Harrison and keyboardist Richard Barbieri, along with a bassist and second guitarist added for the road.

The set list covers seven numbers from C/C, interspersed with many of the band’s more popular work dating back to the mid-tempo, slide guitar-driven “Even Less” from 1999. Visuals and especially audio (in Dolby Atmos, naturally) are stunning, replicating the effect of being there as Wilson and band unravel their complex tunes with the extra energy the live stage brings.

The music is generally darker, often more elaborate, and occasionally louder than say Yes, with layers of guitar and keyboard interaction that drift, collide and often explode in showers of sonic sparks. The tracks veer to the long side with the near 18-minute “Anesthetize,” a milestone from the crucial 2007 release Fear of a Blank Planet, followed by the new album’s “Chimera’s Wreck” clocking in at over 10 minutes.

Porcupine Tree’s players are world class, but the magnificence of the show is how they temper their approach, shifting from the glistening classical piano open of “Sentimental” to the almost Dream Theatre-styled gnarled, thumping, at times metal-inspired concentration of “Harridan,” the latter reminiscent of some of King Crimson’s work (which Wilson has remixed).

Song titles such as the expansive “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It’s Recycled” reflect Wilson’s overall dystopian vision evident in the music’s ominous overtones. Nothing has “hit single” potential of course, as Porcupine Tree avoids chorus/verse/bridge forms for more intricate, multi-faceted pieces.

Those who thought prog-rock was dead or dying need only push play anywhere on this widescreen example of the sound at its most intoxicating and propulsive. And experiencing it on a quality surround system will convince even those unfamiliar with the songs that Porcupine Tree is a wildly talented band that pushes their music to the edge, and back again, with precision, passion and the determination to prove their genre is alive and well.

Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images


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