Porcupine Tree are one of the most beloved British rock bands that feature progressive aspects within their music of the last quarter of a century. During the noughties, they cultivated a passionate fan-base, as the music took a more hard-rock direction, resulting in glowing accolades and a much wider appeal than the band had previously experienced. This appeared to culminate with the bands’ tenth album, The Incident, and by the back-end of 2010 after all the accompanying tour dates had been completed, very little was heard of Porcupine Tree after that. Principal song-writer and band leader Steven Wilson spent much of the next decade focusing on his own blossoming solo career, and although the band never officially split up, it seemed to many that Porcupine Tree was now dead in the water.
So you can imagine the surprise when, completely out of the blue, it was first announced in late 2021 that the core unit of Steven Wilson, Gavin Harrison and Richard Barbieri had been secretly working to complete an album of new material for release the following summer. The result was the aptly titled Closure/Continuation, which they collectively stated was a tying up of loose ends, some of which was older material that had been in embryonic form for over a decade. The ensuing inactivity that the Covid pandemic spawned gave these musicians a chance to review the material and finally finish it off in the manner that it deserved. At long last there was a new Porcupine Tree album, and very surprisingly some tour dates to promote its release. Unfortunately, there was only one solitary UK date, at Wembley Arena in London, but I (plus another twelve-and-a-half thousand PT fans) managed to get there to witness the band performing live, knowing that this could indeed be the very last chance to see them again.
Even though Porcupine Tree seem to have now hit legendary status, and have increased their audience far more than when they were active in the noughties, I’ve never really considered them to be an ‘arena’ act. The music has a hell of a lot of light and shade, with many mellow and atmospheric songs that most would consider ‘album’ tracks, and perhaps not what people would think of as typical material for arena sized crowds. In the context of more intimate two to three thousand seater venues, this kind of song can work exceedingly well. However, the arena circuit is a very different beast, where your audience can potentially be six times larger in size, and as such I was interested to see how the band would cope in this bigger environment. To be fair, they did a very decent job. Now we have a document of sorts from that tour, in the form of a live album and DVD/Blu-ray release, unimaginatively (chortle) titled Closure/Continuation Live. But as all seven songs from the studio album were performed, I can kind of understand the reasoning behind this.
What we have here is a representation of the show that Porcupine Tree performed on this tour, in its entirety over close to two-and-a-half hours. It’s represented in CD form the same way as it was performed live, the concert being in two halves, each presented on one of the discs in this set. The show opens with one of the band’s biggest anthems, and also one of their most iconic songs, Blackest Eyes. It’s a proper declaration of intent, if ever there was a one. Not only a massive sounding tune, but beautifully performed and recreated live by a five-piece outfit. Even though a nostalgic part of me misses the classic touring line-up of the noughties, that included long-term bassist Colin Edwin along with John Wesley on guitar and backing vocals, I cannot fault this new incarnation of Porcupine Tree. Randy McStine does a stellar job on guitar, sometimes carrying the main guitar parts while Wilson sings, and also providing top-notch backing vocals, while Nate Navarro is a monster musician on bass. They both play out their band roles to perfection.
Next up is Harridan, the opening number from the latest studio album. It’s a fabulous song, very bass-driven, and came out of the many jam sessions that Steven Wilson had alone with drummer Gavin Harrison, with Steven playing purely bass guitar. It’s also a superb way to set the atmosphere for this show, which represents their entire new album in a live format, with the addition of rarely performed songs from their back catalogue, plus a few fan-favourites thrown in. Steven Wilson is a man known for not wanting to wallow in nostalgia, or feel forced in any way to perform the same songs over and over, and I can respect his decision to want to play music that personally excites him, especially with the prospect of having to perform them dozens of times through a tour. So what we got on this evening was five of the ten songs performed in the first half of the show, all coming from the new release, the remaining two slotted into the second half.
Two more new songs follow with Of the New Day, probably my favourite track from that release, and Rats Return, a quirky, edgy, discordant yet highly enjoyable song. The next three tracks are all absolute bangers. Firstly, Even Less, one of my favourite songs and dating from prior to Gavin Harrison’s involvement with the band. This is followed by the awesome Drown With Me, which was criminally left off the original release of the In Absentia album, yet here is given the exposure that it truly deserves. The final song from this golden trio is Dignity, which I feel is one of the strongest songs from the current album. Next is the wonderful The Sound of Muzak, which two decades ago uncannily predicted the state of our current pop music scene. All of these songs sound amazing, even as live renditions, with superb musicianship, exemplary performances and great overall sound quality.
This first set is rounded off with two final inclusions. An unusual choice is Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth, which I’ve personally always really liked, as I do the rest of the pre-Harrison Lightbulb Sun album. Yet Porcupine Tree did release six studio albums before recruiting Gavin Harrison, his arrival coinciding with a change of musical direction, so there was undoubtedly plenty of material to choose from when formulating a set, and I’m guessing Steven Wilson deliberately went for songs that had rarely been performed to give the show a fresher vibe. The final song of the first half is the marvellous Chimera’s Wreck. From its broody acoustic opening passages, through to early Rush style jamming in the mid-section, culminating with an abrupt end, it’s a mini-epic – what a way to close off Disc 1.
The second disc (and the second half of the show after the interval) opens with Fear of A Blank Planet. A real fan favourite, it’s a beast of a tune, and once again the choice of opening number couldn’t have been better planned. Yet it’s after this point that the show seems to take a bit of a nose dive. Buying New Soul is a lengthy song that never made it onto a major album release and just seems to bring the vibe down after such a cracking opener. This is followed by Walk the Plank, my least favourite number from the most recent album – I actually prefer the three bonus songs on that release. Then we get Sentimental, which is not a bad song, but definitely more of an album track in my opinion. It’s this trio of slower, lighter-weight tunes that completely kill the flow of the second set for me, and I remember feeling that same when I saw them perform the set live.
Fortunately, all is put right with the arrival of Herd Culling, which is the last of the newer material to be aired. It’s a fairly repetitive tune overall, but the dynamics of soft to full-on abrasive are very impressive. Definitely a great track to bring the audience back to full attention. Finally, the crowd are rewarded for their patience with the seventeen minute epic that is Anesthetise. This one is truly for the fans as it is constantly number one in the vast majority of top Porcupine Tree song polls. Not only is this a fabulous tune which spans three main musical sections, but live it is an absolute high point of the show. A great showpiece for the band, and a fantastic showcase for the talents of Gavin Harrison as he really gets to cut loose on this one.
Next is the mellower I Drive the Hearse, the closing song from The Incident, which I personally feel is a vastly overlooked album, very different from its predecessor Fear of A Blank Planet, and a release that was heavily criticised by many of the fanbase. It’s essentially a 55-minute concept piece, and I adore it. I particularly love this song too, which is fabulously recreated here. It’s back to fan-faves with the huge sounding Sleep Together, and its pounding backbeat during the choruses. The soaring Arabian-style melodies during the final section definitely make it the Kashmir of the Porcupine Tree world. This is the second set closer, and it’s a brilliant way to go out, another perfectly chosen and placed set choice.
The three encores start with the piano-led Collapse the Light into Earth, a melancholy ballad style number which would have been out of place during the main sets, yet here it works really well. This is followed by the up-beat and infectious Halo, the only song representing the stunning Deadwing album, but at least one is better than none at all. The final song of the show is the closest thing Porcupine Tree ever had to a hit single, the acoustic based Trains. It received some US radio play and featured a lot on MTV back in the day, and although never a true hit, it is the band’s most recognisable song. It’s quite a lengthy version, mainly because the band disappear off stage during the back end of the tune, then reappear to finish off the last few bars. I’m not sure if that works, but that’s how they played it, and after two-and-a-half hours of music, that’s your lot.
I’m pleased that Porcupine Tree chose to release this album as a document of their first gigs in twelve years, with both their musical and compositional style having changed considerably during the intervening period. This release reflects a very different band, with two new additional members, now taking the show out to arenas, which I’m sure they had never even contemplated was possible back in the noughtes. It’s all quite bizarre how a band that can be off the scene for well over a decade can return with much more interest in them, and a far bigger fan-base having accumulated during their absence. This includes people like myself, who only really discovered Porcupine Tree during the depths of the covid lockdown period, yet quickly became a passionate fan of the music. I got into them a good decade too late to ever see them perform live, so this resurgence couldn’t have come at a more suitable time for me.
If you were one of the many people that attended a shows on this tour, and you had the misfortune to not be in the front section of these huge venues, close to the stage, then I cannot urge you more strongly to invest in the Blu-ray/DVD edition. It’s the exact same show from the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 7th November 2022 as appears on the CD, and the same set list they played on the majority of the tour. But of course, this visual version now gives you a chance to actually see the band members performing, and not just witness a huge light show from the back-half of these massive auditoriums.
Even though the lighting was fantastic, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that they probably would have preferred to see the actual band themselves. There were big screens on stage, yet these were only used for pre-recorded visual content to suit the individual songs. If that had been done in a hall sized venue, it would have been absolutely perfect, but in these vast arenas, with no live in-the-moment footage of the band playing on stage, I really felt it was an omission that detracted from the show and reduced the intimacy and interaction between band and audience. Now I’ve had that little rant, I can say that the Blu-ray/DVD version of this concert rectifies that problem, and at long last I got to SEE Porcupine Tree play that set. And it’s a great show. Watching the band up close adds everything that was missing from that Wembley gig, and probably even more so for the enormous audience that assembled to watch them in Amsterdam too.
The sound is incredible, just as you would expect from anything that Steven Wilson is involved with. Surprisingly, the lead vocal is quite prominent, which I personally like, and both guitars are really pushed in the mix, which I like a hell of a lot. Nothing too over the top, but it’s certainly punchy in the mix and not shy in the slightest. I’m sure that the Dolby 5.1 surround sound on this will be stunning, and if you have that kind of system this will undoubtedly be a great concert to immerse yourself in.
Is this the final musical release from Porcupine Tree? Who knows. I would like to think that the three core musicians had such a good time bouncing ideas off each other when creating the music, and also performing together again as a unit, that further new Porcupine Tree material could be on the horizon at some time in the future. Presently, Steven Wilson is still pushing his latest solo album, The Harmony Codex, and I’m sure that there’ll be some solo shows to accompany it, as he’s also yet to play any material from his previous solo album, The Future Bites, due to the badly timed Covid pandemic. Apart from a one-off short solo performance last September, he hasn’t played any proper solo shows since early 2019, so it’s very likely that this will be his next point of focus. Yet I have my fingers firmly crossed for another Porcupine Tree album within the next few years, before they collectively start feeling too old to pursue it any further. I can but hope.
01. Blackest Eyes (5:23)
02. Harridan (8:08)
03. Of the New Day (4:44)
04. Rats Return (5:15)
05. Even Less (6:56)
06. Drown With Me (5:26)
07. Dignity (8:35)
08. The Sound of Muzak (5:05)
09. Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled (4:53)
10. Chimera’s Wreck (10:25)
11. Fear of A Blank Planet (9:08)
Time – 73:58
01. Buying New Soul (7:48)
02. Walk the Plank (4:29)
03. Sentimental (5:24)
04. Herd Culling (7:12)
05. Anesthetize (17:26)
06. I Drive the Hearse (6:24)
07. Sleep Together (7:57)
08. Collapse the Light Into the Earth (5:02)
09. Halo (5:55)
10. Trains (8:03)
Time – 75:40
Total Time – 149:38
*DVD/Blu-ray edition has same track listing. Blu-ray includes Dolby Atmos Surround Sound | 5.1 Audio | 24 bit High Resolution Audio (Excluding bonus features)
Steven Wilson – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Richard Barbieri – Keyboards
Gavin Harrison – Drums
Randy McStine – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nate Navarro – Bass
Record Label: Music for Nations
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 8th December 2023