Porcupine Tree at The Auditorium Theater in Chicago
One writer’s note of importance is that the band has asked for there to be no photography during the tour and we respectfully obliged in this case and that is why this article is not accompanied by live shots as we usually do.
Packing into the many levels of Chicago’s Auditorium Theater were thousands of eagerly awaiting fans of Porcupine Tree on the evening of September 20th, 2022. Eager because they hadn’t had the opportunity to see Porcupine Tree in a dozen years as their band took a hiatus after ‘The Incident’ tour of 2010. Richard Barbieri on keyboards, Gavin Harrison on drums, and Steven Wilson on guitar, electric piano, and lead vocals all returned together for the new tour which was alongside their new album ‘Closure/Continuation’. The only member not returning with the band for the new album and tour was bassist Colin Edwin. Touring members for ‘Closure/Continuation’ included Randy McStine on guitar, and Nathan Navarro on bass.
The concert opened with a sharp midranged synth drone that played for minutes as chaotic moving blue lights pooled onto the stage area. A few minutes into the drone, the house lights went down and the band took stage breaking into the opening riff of ‘Blackest Eyes’ the opening track from 2002’s ‘In Absentia’ album. The stage setup had McStine at stage right, Barbieri to his left, Wilson centre, Harrison to the right of Wilson, and Navarro stage left.
The mix of the band was quite clean immediately with each instrument projecting well and balanced. Portrayed on the big screen behind the band was the pale-eyed blue man from ‘In Absentia’s’ album cover in various poses in reaction to the music. It was a nice bit of Nostalgia for the band to start with Blackest Eyes as ‘In Absentia’ was the groundbreaking album that features the current three members for the first time together.
From the old and right into the new the band followed up ‘Blackest Eyes’ with ‘Harridan’ the first single off the new album ‘Closure/Continuation’. The opening driving slap bass passage of ‘Harridan’ was played by Navarro. I was curious to see if Wilson would perform the bass part as he provided all the bass parts for the album, and this opening was quite iconic. Then again I understand that when you have a touring bassist as talented as Navarro you definitely need to have him shine as he did here playing the opening. There were some great musical moments in the performance of ‘Harridan’ including the first heavy guitar hit being even more powerful hearing in person than from the album. I also really enjoyed Barbieri’s synthetic didgeridoo (I’ll just refer to it as a syntheridoo) that followed that first heavy guitar section as a great transition.
The stage lighting shined during Porcupine Tree’s performance of another one of the singles off of ‘Closure/Continuation’ in ‘Rats Return’. During the song’s opening riff, the lights had the combination of many white beams creating crossover patterns with each other, whilst red flood lights filled in the space behind them and rhythmically timed bright spotlights to the riff also going off. McStine contributed nicely on Rats Return playing matching sustained guitar lines to the recorded female high-pitched vocal swells at the song’s conclusion.
‘Even Less’ which followed ‘Rats Return’ allowed Barbieri to once again show off his mastering of sound design in the songs breakdown section that precedes Wilson’s guitar solo with his chaotic yet melodic sound creations. Other first-half music highlights included the first of the audience’s vocal participation as they took over the chorus breakdown that follows Wilson’s guitar solo on ‘The Sound Of Muzak’. I also really enjoyed the intro ambience that was created between Barbieri and Wilson on ‘Chimera’s Wreck’ which ended the concert’s first half before an intermission.
In the concert’s second half, we learned from Wilson that a bug has gradually made its way around the touring busses to the point where all band members were now dealing with some sort of illness. Other than a semi-raspy singing voice from Wilson there were no musical indications that they were in any way hindered. The second half opened with the title track from 2007’s ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’ as the audience clapped along to the beat of Harrison’s opening groove and the band again showed a tight set of musicianship especially in the improvised build-up section with contributions from all members.
A unique video highlight in the concert’s second half happened during the performance of ‘Walk The Plank’ where the big screen portrayed a stormy dystopian sea with futuristic sea habitats. Another great moment of music, video, and lighting all coming together powerfully happened during the performance of another one of ‘Closure/Continuation’s singles ‘Herd Culling’ where quick zooming shots of a red-eyed wolf along with the rhythmic flashing lights during the songs heavy guitar riffs lead to my mouth dropping in amazement. Harrison also had an amazingly powerful all-snare drum fill leading into the final time through the song’s main vamp.
This comes as no surprise to me but Harrison continues to amaze with new unique fills during the performance of Porcupine Tree’s epic ‘Anesthetize’. I have yet to come across a new performance of it where I haven’t heard some new unique mind-blowing fill from him. I also again give props to McStine as well during ‘Anesthetize’ as he portrayed the guitar solo that happens before the guitar vamp where Wilson makes his transition to the electric piano very well. Anaesthetize brought about the biggest response from the crowd prior to the encore applause.
The regular set ended with the band’s powerful performance of ‘Sleep Together’ accompanied by its live visual film on the big screen of a mechanical statute working in tandem to the song’s rhythm. The encores were cut shorter than previous performances on the tour most likely because of all the band members being sick. The encores opened with a more intimate performance which the band had teased they were going to do of ‘Collapse The Light Into The Earth’ as the performance consisted of just Wilson on vocals and playing the main piano vamp while Barbieri added atmosphere and counter melodies. The opening of the song included an elongated ambient intro that was very pleasant that isn’t on the studio album version. The final encore was of the band’s “hit song if they had a hit song” as Wilson explained in their performance of ‘Trains’. On previous nights of the tour the band had also performed ‘Halo’ inbetween ‘Collapse The Light Into The Earth’ and ‘Trains’ but it was not performed this evening.
Nevertheless, it was a very welcome and powerful evening to have the greatness that is Porcupine Tree back and together performing live again and I hope they are finding that itch to continue writing and touring going forward beyond ‘Closure/Continuation’.