Sunday 22nd April 2007
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Mancunian trio Amplifier are the only support for Porcupine Tree this evening in a refreshingly smoke-free Rock City - posters strategically placed around the venue state that at the request of the bands, people should refrain from lighting up. Originally signed to Music For Nations before the label folded, Amplifier were picked up by SPV who released their critically acclaimed second album, 'Insider', last year. Perhaps best described as progressive stoner with a punchy rock-metal groove that is simultaneously melodious and genuinely heavy, they have a huge sound for only a three-piece, and also sustain a dynamic stage presence throughout their set with an absorbingly energetic performance. With the Rock City crowd reacting enthusiastically to their music, Amplifier prove themselves a worthy opening act for tonight's headliners.
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Wandering past the merchandise stall earlier this evening, I read a notice hung on the wall advertising that Porcupine Tree's stunning new album, their first for Roadrunner, had just entered the UK album charts at number 31. This is deserved success as 'Fear of a Blank Planet' is, at least in my opinion, their best to date. Frontman Steve Wilson's announcement early in the set tonight that they'll be playing the new release in its entirety is, therefore, most welcome. He also informs the large audience present in Rock City they'll play some songs that even fans who have seen the band many times before probably won't have ever heard them perform live. Opening with the new album's up tempo title track, Porcupine Tree's varied set incorporates, as per Wilson's promise, all songs from 'Fear of a Blank Planet', which are interposed with material from their substantial back catalogue. Every track is flawlessly executed and, with a pristine sound and perfect mix through the PA, songs such as 'Blackest Eyes' from 2002's 'In Absentia' have never sounded better. 'Anesthetize', the epic seventeen-plus minute composition from the new album, is indubitably a set highlight with its multifarious soundscapes fabricating a pastiche of both retro and contemporary prog-rock/metal acts, from the Radiohead inspired opening bars which segue into a passage reminiscent of 'Echoes'-era Pink Floyd; a mid-section with heavier Opeth style chord progressions; and an Anathema-esque ambience that colours the final five or so minutes. However, as a whole, the song still sounds uniquely Porcupine Tree, and its lengthy duration passes by in no time at all as its captivating melodies and spellbinding musical charms are easy to get lost in. The set climaxes with the final two tracks from 'Fear of a Blank Planet' - 'Way Out of Here' and 'Sleep Together' - before the band exit the stage, and then reappear a couple of minutes later for 3 encore songs - 'Even Less' from 1999 album 'Stupid Dream'; the instrumental 'Mother and Child Divided', which originally appeared as a bonus track on the DVD-Audio/DTS reissue of 2005's 'Deadwing'; and finally 'Halo', also from 'Deadwing'.
It is undeniable that Porcupine Tree make music with far reaching appeal in terms of their diverse fanbase. This is evidenced tonight as audience members cover a wide array of ages, and judging by t-shirts being worn, range from middle-aged 'traditional' prog-rock aficionados to a large contingent of much younger prog-metal fans. Based on the band's latest chart success, it is clear their popularity in the UK has increased significantly since the release of 'Deadwing'and with performances as good as this evening, they deserve even greater fortunes. Porcupine Tree are one of the best live bands I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing, and if they continue to release albums as strong as 'Fear of a Blank Planet', I'm sure that major league success awaits them.