The evening of April 24 starts off with an abundance of fans lined up along Sherbourne Street in Toronto, like a funeral line waiting to pay their respects. A group of individuals enticed by the very fact that there is a man inside the Phoenix who is about to blow their excitable minds with his talent of composition, stage presence, mysticism, and band leadership. An already well-known soul who was probably doing rock n’ roll things with rock n’ roll people while scalpers accosted the patriots and the line grew larger and larger without enough patience to ward off the urge to run inside.
That man was Steven Wilson, well know for his work with several bands including Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Incredible Exploding Mindfuck, and Blackfield, among many others. The pro rocker was celebrating the release of his latest solo album The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), which dropped on February 25.
Let’s set the mood, shall we? A darkened room with only the spotlights in the centre and the tiny incandescent twinkles behind the bar illuminating only the odd face in a house packed so tight that even a sardine would have snickered. Fans, one by one, becoming less and less patient for their hero(s) to take the stage. And finally, the tease sets in. The lights go out, the crowd makes noise, the slow and quiet sound of a Cello rings out through the system and a screen lit up with clouds takes centre stage. But Steven is nowhere to be found. The images of clouds running over what appears to be a moon, over and over, repeating endlessly as the quiet music becomes more aggressive and intense, until the point of climax hits and revealed is the cover of the Raven stapled to the screen.
And so it begins; the band takes the stage, each getting their own applause by fans who know them by name, image, sound, and passion. As the show sparks, Steven Wilson takes the stage, who looks more like John Lennon in person than he does in his pictures. ‘Luminol’ energizes the band and the audience alike, and the room has come together, finally, for one great evening of musical expression, the way it should be.
Steven, who for much of the performance traded guitars as if he wasn’t overly fond of their look, captivated the room. With conductor’s hands, “I know something you don’t” stares, exorcist-like body gyrations, and only a very mild sense of humour once in a while, Steven Wilson brought more action to the room during song than the music itself.
The band (and album) consisted of Steven Wilson on guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals; Guthrie Govan on lead guitar; Nick Beggs on bass, chapman stick, and vocals; Adam Holzman on piano, organ, minimoog and any other keys; Marco Minneman on drums and percussion; and Theo Travis performing a wide variety of solos with flute, saxophone, clarinet, and, at one point, what appeared to be an English horn. This is a band that is so nicely knitted together that, even if there was a mistake to be made, it would have gone unnoticed – especially by the more-than-favoured lead guitarist, Guthrie Govan. He is clearly a standout ,not only in Steven’s music and live show, but to the fans and bystanders. More applause was given, more noise was made to this brilliant and untouchable guitar player who swept the neck as if it was it was covered in engine oil and each finger was a piston driving the entire show.
Not to go unnoticed are the two support hands. Adam Holzman, for one, played so beautifully at times that it was a shame you could hear your own thoughts as he trampled the ivories. So direct and passionate, so full and meaningful his notes rang out surpassing any other member in the band. Not in a way that makes any one lesser than the other, in a way that helped construct them as a whole. Theo Travis lead, second lead, third lead and the only woodwind player on the stage, modestly stood in the background on a small riser, behind Govan. Patiently awaiting his parts. Cued in at every precise moment the way a drum core must stay in time with a march. Sounds that surpassed the volume of the band, how wonderful to have an acoustic instrument, fiery on top of distorted amplifiers, crying for help and attention over waves of bass and drums. Caressing vibrations pursuing time through air and reed. Culturing the entire show with elegance and fury.
As the show came to a close, two and a half hours in, everyone is the room was still ready for more. An encore was graciously accepted (even though pre-planned) and a very standard and welcoming stand-in-line bow followed. If the standing audience had thought of it, they probably would have given him and the band a sitting ovation. There is a true passion in his fans. Much like any artist desires, and one like Steven deserves. And, thankfully, he has them.
Let’s end the scene shall we? The story ends with an empty room. In a room where lovers and gamblers have poured their souls onto a crowd of unknown watchers, time and time again. A perceived 1,300 people go home with a piece of an artist, with pieces of artists, with an experience given to them and taken in by them wholeheartedly. It was a rock concert, a gathering, a festival, and a sold-out event devoted to music. Good music, like a train keeps on rolling on down the line; as does Steven Wilson (as he mentioned, he writes about trains to great laughter). The show goes on, the people live their lives and the drive to do it again is that much stronger now, and if Steven Wilson’s music has not been heard by your ears, make sure you go out and get yourself some ear candy from his extensive catalogue. If you are disappointed, Steven would probably tell you he doesn’t care. All the power to him, he knows what he wants and what he needs, and he gets it. And so does his audience.