Live Review: Steven Wilson at La Riviera (Madrid, Spain) (16/01/2019)

The second leg of Steven Wilson’s “To The Bone” tour began exactly the same way it did in 2018: Lisbon first, Madrid second. Nevertheless, on the first leg of the tour, the band visited the most popular arena in Madrid, WiZink Center (previously known as “Palacio de Deportes”, as some madrileños still like to remember it). Now, in 2019, they returned to La Riviera, a smaller venue by the river Manzanares where they played during the Hand.Cannot.Erase. (2015) tour.

Steven Wilson is a prolific self-taught musician and very sought after producer. Some of his latest remixes include King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (1971), XTC’s Skylarking (1986) and Yes: The Steven Wilson Remixes (2018), which includes five Yes LPs: The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), Close to the Edge (1972), Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) and Relayer (1974). He has formed several bands as well as his current solo project. As an artist, Steven does not lock himself within one specific genre. Even if it is thought by many that his main area is progressive rock, he has also traversed through progressive metal (Porcupine Tree), art rock and ambient (No-Man and Blackfield), jazz, electronic and pop in his current solo career.

The show started at 8pm on the dot with the overwhelming short film “Truth”, used to open all the shows of the “To The Bone” tour. The film depicts a series of images with titles such as truth, science, family, fact, fake, etc., whilst the pre-recorded tunes that accompany the sequence seem to take you back to a 1920s cabaret. Then, these images and titles are exchanged at a heightened pace and a loud, discomforting boom is introduced. “Truth” explores the comfort of one’s upbringing and common beliefs contrasted with the aversion and distrust that rearranging our well-established perceptions may cause. Immediately after the screening, the musicians came on stage. From left to right: Nick Beggs on bass, Chapman Stick and occasional backing vocals; Craig Blundell on drums; Steven Wilson as the frontman, lead singer, guitarist and occasional keyboardist and bassist (on ‘Home Invasion / Regret #9’); Adam Holzman on keyboards and synths; and Alex Hutchings on the electric guitar.

Extremely precise surround sound is one of the essential aspects of the show. It is quickly noticeable that the rhythmic section is given a lot of authority. Beggs and Blundell make up an excellent upbeat couple finding the perfect equilibrium between professional impeccability and playful camaraderie. To maintain that Beggs plays the bass is a modest statement, as he shifts between caressing the Chapman Stick with great care to slapping the powerful Spector CodaBass in a rock n’ roll awe. Craig Blundell’s high-powered and vibrant drumming, paired with his incessant smiling, was sheer buoyancy for the gratification of the fans.

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The charismatic duo: Beggs (left) and Blundell (right)

The seven songs from Steven’s latest record To The Bone (2017) showed quite a personal but accessible side to his musical persona, although none of them gave rise to the public’s enthusiasm. During ‘Pariah’ (To The Bone, 2017) Israeli singer-songwriter Ninet Tayeb was brought on screen, lip-syncing to her pre-recorded part of the track. Steven mentioned that he enjoyed La Riviera better than ‘posh’ WiZink where they had played a little less than a year before. “A hundred and seventeen performances after we now have a certain swagger and sexiness”, Steven celebrated, to the crowd’s amusement. Adam’s keyboard solo at ‘Regret #9’ (Hand.Cannot.Erase, 2015) created a magical scenery. The first of the four Porcupine Tree songs performed that night, ‘The Creator Has A Mastertape’ (In Absentia, 2002), gave the band a whole new aura of rebelliousness.

Steven took his physically worn-out Fender Telecaster and proclaimed: “For all of you under the age of twenty-five, this is an electric guitar”. He wanted to make a point about the slow disappearance of the electric guitar in the pop realm. “Nowadays, guitarists position their guitars very close to their neck and play three thousand notes per second. That resembles an Olympic sport and it is not sexy”, the fans continued to giggle. He challenged himself to play a guitar solo without looking at the instrument so as to look as sexy as Jimmy Page. Indeed, he delivered quite an entertaining, festival-like solo which gained in authenticity rather than seeming premeditated and technical.

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‘Ancestral’ (Hand.Cannot.Erase, 2015) and ‘Sleep Together’ (Fear of a Blank Planet, 2007) awoke the fans’ craziness – quite long tracks of thirteen and eight minutes each that unmasked just how pleasing the experience seemed to be for the musicians, who were beyond comfortable in their own skin. The ‘Ancestral’ guitar solo by Hutchings was bewitching, but other than that case, it would have been fantastic if he had been placed in the spotlight more often. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest moments of the night was ‘Detonation’ (To The Bone, 2017), which saw all five members of the band adding up to a spectacular improvisation of funky grooves.

‘Lazarus’ (Deadwing, 2005), ‘Blackfield’ (Blackfield, 2004) and ‘The Raven that Refused to Sing’ (The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), 2013) shaped the humane and melancholic melodic passages of the show, those “depressing” bits (as Wilson himself acknowledges) that “truly attract the audience to his shows”. But the true captivation of the Steven Wilson act is the high quality of the sound and execution of fascinating pieces attached to the cheerfulness of the performers. What’s not to like?

Want to see a “To The Bone” tour concert of Steven and co.? Catch them on tour (click here for tour dates) or get the Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall (2018) Blu-ray / DVD from Burning Shed here.

Check out the full setlist for the performance here.

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