Show Review: Porcupine Tree with Karnivool at The Warfield Theater, 8/11/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on August 12, 2010

Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree

Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree

When a massive act plans a statewide, or possibly worldwide, tour, one of the factors involved is selecting opening bands for the tour. More often than not, the presence of a more famous and popular headliner will usually be a signal that larger, more well-known opening acts will come along for the ride. In the case of Porcupine Tree, however, their opening slot on Coheed And Cambria’s colossal new tour comes with the hope that at least a good chunk of the audience will be part of the dedicated following that they have carved out themselves within the states. As a nod to those fans, Porcupine Tree kicked off the tour with a special headlining show for one of their favorite cities (as claimed by frontman Steven Wilson on a few occasions): San Francisco, California.

Karnivool perform onstage at the Warfield

Karnivool perform onstage at the Warfield

Originally planned as “an evening with”, meaning that the entire night’s schedule would be taken up by Porcupine Tree, a last minute shuffle caused the Australian prog-metallists Karnivool to be the first band onstage when the lights of the Warfield Theater fell. Despite my minor skepticism after sampling a few cuts of their albums, I — and, it seemed, most of the audience — were astonished by the energetic and unbelievably solid performance that Karnivool put on for the first 40 minutes of the night. With a complex blend fitting somewhere between punching metal, dreamy psychedelia and thunderously off-kilter rhythms, the band played a rather thrilling set that got more than a few people jumping about, and even cheering DURING songs instead of just between them. In the four times that I have seen Porcupine Tree, I have never seen a more fitting opener than Karnivool; the crowd seemed to be on just the right level with them, and they received ecstatic applause at the end of their set.

Karnivool's setlist

Karnivool's setlist

At the hour of nine, the stage was once again swathed in darkness, and the roar of the crowd heralded the arrival of the members of Porcupine Tree and their opening song, the classic “Even Less”. In keeping with the theme of providing a special night for their cult of San Franciscan fans, the song was performed at its original, “full” length of nearly 15 minutes, with some intricate solos and breakdowns between the three sections of the piece. After finishing their impressive first number, frontman Steven Wilson declared that tonight would be filled with surprises and many songs that they had not performed in some time, along with several songs from their new record, The Incident.

The possibility for mistakes was warned of, but the crowd was, thankfully, too enamored by the performance to mind. Alarmingly, Steven’s prediction came true; about three or four of the songs got off to a slightly rocky start, but he and the rest of the band kept up a jovial attitude and recovered with little time lost. The crowd seemed amused by the spectacle and not bothered in the slightest; despite this, Steven apologized between each grouping of songs for his few mishaps, expressing a desire to be playing on a better level while bemoaning his lack of sleep (the band had flown into California from England within the last day, and they were still adjusting to the jet lag). While the crowd simply ate it up, I found myself once again pleased with Steven’s near-immaculate onstage professionalism, even in the face of minor errors that would seem likely on a warm-up show.

Steven Wilson and drummer Gavin Harrison

Steven Wilson and drummer Gavin Harrison

A good deal of the performance — one small section in the first set, and a larger section kicking off the second set — was culled from The Incident, the massive concept album which is one single, contiguous performance spread over 55 minutes, and which served as the first set of Porcupine Tree’s performance in September of 2009. In between, however, the band slipped in a few of their more seldom-played pieces, such as the old favorite “Russia On Ice”, the somewhat more obscure “Stars Die” and “Normal”, and the roaring guitar-and-keyboard battle of “Anesthetize” (shortened to the second half of the normally-17-minute-song, in a piece called “Pills I’m Taking”). The upbeat “Open Car” had its own surprise thrown in, in the form of an extended bridge and solos between the verses that gave Steven, along with backup guitarist John Wesley and bassist Colin Edwin, a few changes to roam about the stage as they rocked out.

Not quite as nervous as they had admitted to being last year, Steven and his bandmates played with excellent precision. Aside from the few mishaps encountered at sparse moments within the set, the band played a furiously solid show. Their musicianship was most clearly demonstrated in the frenetic guitar battle of “Wedding Nails” at the end of the first set, and “Sleep Together”, the dark and violent closing number of the second half of the performance. Returning onstage after a small pause, with the howling, stomping crowd beckoning them back, Porcupine Tree closed the night with two more classic pieces, “Pure Narcotic” and “Blackest Eyes”, and spent long minutes bowing, saluting, and waving to their joyous fans before departing from the stage.

Despite the slight self-trip-ups that Steven Wilson encountered at a few points in their set, I was wonderfully impressed by my fourth Porcupine Tree concert. I have always been a fan of their intricate-yet-dark-yet-beautiful-yet-ominous sound, and the colorful visuals and subtle improvisations by the band help to catapult the gorgeous sound of their records to new heights within a live environment. While I am a dedicated devotee of Porcupine Tree, I hope that this tour with Coheed And Cambria provides them with a new level of exposure that they have not yet seen, yet most certainly deserve for their amazing musicianship and marvelous performances.

Porcupine Tree's setlist

Porcupine Tree's setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Joel Weeks August 12, 2010 at 11:46 am

Thanks for the review. Truly a fine performance by PT.

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Gordon Elgart August 12, 2010 at 11:49 am

The show was extremely sloppy, probably more so than you’re letting on, but this made it more charming than other shows of theirs have been. I’ve seen them nine times now, and I’ve always been struck by something like a cold professionalism.

By telling us they’re going to make mistakes, and then making them, the band seemed more vulnerable than I’ve ever seen them. On a few occasions, I caught members of the band laughing with each other over their flubs, which gave the whole event more personality than I’d ever seen. I think this is why the audience loved it so much. It really did feel like a special show.

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Nicolas August 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I’m really curious about the mishaps that were made 🙂 I’m going to see PT in London’s Royal Albert Hall, maybe I should be prepared. Could anyone give me some examples of mishaps? :p

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Gordon Elgart August 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm

They flubbed the lyrics to the bridge of Pure Narcotic, Steven sang “La da de da de da” instead of the first chorus in Blackest Eyes, and he apologized for his guitar solo on one track.

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akm August 12, 2010 at 1:07 pm

steven forgot the words to ‘i drive the hearse’ for one, that’s really the only major one I remember (oh, he forgot a bunch of words in Blackest Eyes also)

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jcoriha August 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm

All the mistakes listed above, plus minor drum stuff in “Way Out of Here”, and I noticed that John Wesley was briefly annoyed with his tech as they started “Pure Narcotic”. I didn’t notice if it was a tuning thing or a pedal thing but he quickly moved. After “Pure Narcotic” the other tech didn’t pull Steven’s stool back, he looked around for a second and just moved it himself. The biggest things were the lyrics and Steven’s leads towards the end of “Octane Twisted” (I think) over Wesley’s arpeggios. It was a great show none the less. 1st time I’ve seen them live. I had heard good things about Karnivool, but the album left me wishing they had more money/time. The songs that stood out the most for me during their set were “Set Fire” and “New Day”, but I expect future material will really up the ante for them.

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Michael Murray August 12, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Agree that the performance was a bit sloppy but if you are a fan of PT you were not disappointed. Yes SW was upfront about the jet lag and the possibility for mistakes which was very humerous. The crowd laughed with them not at them for sure. PT has such an incredible catalog of unbelievable epic tunes that everything they pulled out of the bag tonight was received with the rabid positive response the SF fans love to show to them. I hope they come back real soon and to be able to see them 2X in less than a year in SF was indeed a treat. I especially love when SW stands at the very front of the stage and hammers his ax while looking down at his adoring fans. He seems to be sayng “yep, rock star time mates” but not condescending. Loved Karnivool (out of Perth AUS). Great sound!

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Paul Swietek August 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm

the mistakes were mainly on Steven’s part; he first effed up the intro to “Great Expectations”, then mixed up the chorus to “Anesthetize”, then forgot part of the opening solo on “Octane Twisted”, followed by another false start intro to “I Drive The Hearse”, then of course the fudged lyrics to “Pure Narcotic” and “Blackest Eyes”

nonetheless it was a wonderful magical show

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Melody Barrett August 16, 2010 at 1:16 am

I was very thankful to even see Porcupine Tree and it was everything that I would have hoped for. My husband and I and 2 sons were right at the stage in front of Colin. I loved every minute of the concert and who cares about minor imperfections with such an otherwise perfect band. I have almost all of their CD’s and 2 DVD’s and I watch them on Youtube often so you could say that I am well acquainted with their music. I have nothing but compliments for their performance. We waited by the tourbus after the concert and Steven, Richard and Gavin were there to autograph my 12 year old son’s ticket. As my 12 year old is a drummer you know that this thrilled him as he hopes to be as good as Gavin someday. I can’t wait to see them again, hopefully with just Porcupine Tree.

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Ben August 18, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Great review of a great concert! My second time seeing them in the past year, so it was great to be able to hear some songs that aren’t usually in the set. Glad I finally saw the set list, I had sadly mistaken a song and typed up the wrong setlist in my own review.

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Paul Schoultz August 19, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I saw PT in San Antonio last night, and they were awesome. I guess they had gotten over the jet lag by then, because they didn’t make any mistakes that I could detect. They did, however, have to deal with the brutal SA heat, even after sundown at the outside venue. SW made light of the fact that, as Britons, they are not used to such weather.

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mike August 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

I saw p tree in Albaquerque New Mexico on Monday at the Sunshine, a 500 mile drive from my home in nw Colorado. They were very good and will see them next tour even if I have to travel farther

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