Gig Review: The Miracle Called Porcupine Tree

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4:43 PM. 20th December 2009. IIT Bombay.

We’re here. Homeless. Foodless. Batteryless. Moneyless. But we’re here, at India’s premier engineering institute to watch Porcupine Tree. Chicks with tattoos, nerds who can’t kick footballs, an occasional black shirt and long-haired head. If you’re a fan of my reviews, and I’m sure you are, then you know my fondness for foreplay.

Getting to Bombay wasn’t as troublesome as I had expected. The train ride didn’t seem as long as it was, and was only sometimes frustrating because my phone was out of charge. The pass through the Western Ghats was particularly entertaining. Our plan reached only as far as Dadar. The hurdles began with the hunt for a room. The three of us were like the guys from Hostel, looking out from one shady place to another, slightly terrified about having unmentionable objects put into unmentionable places. We settled for an A/C room, and the splurge on that cut out the sightseeing we had planned for today. Cut a few hours short and here we are at the prelims for Livewire Nite. About 20 bands compete for the 3 spots that get to open for PT. I’ve been here for a couple of hours and the only band that gets me going is Noiseware, an ‘experimental’ band from Pune. Energetic stage act, great vocals, tight enough sound and an innovative cover of Smooth Criminal. Anyone up for the genre war? Heh I shall resist. The frustration from two days of not having listened to metal (I had filled my phone with PT songs) is unleashed when Inner Sanctum takes the stage. From the first riff of the first song till the last riff of the last song, my head does not stop moving. The Bangalore band blew the geeks away, getting the crowd frenzied. If bands are judged by band response alone, IS will clinch it. I am faint, my neck won’t move, my head won’t stay parallel to the ground and I walk in circles. I think I am dying.

3:15 AM. 21st December. Pirate Ship Lawn, IIT.

We are seated on a lawn. The air is chill and the grass is smooth. Porcupine Tree fills my ears. I learn earlier that IS does not qualify, but Noiseware does, fair enough perhaps. I read a newspaper interview of the band. Steven Wilson declares that they’ll be playing a different set for India, and we can expect songs from the last four albums. This is the best piece of news I’ve heard all day. Blackest Eyes? Trains? Lazarus? Sentimental? Feels So Low? I am turned on. Less than a day to go, but first we must get through the night. Accommodation was unavailable everywhere, so it looks like the grass will rest our asses tonight. We are with the boys from Eccentric Pendulum. Ashish and Aditya (ex-Ston’d) are playing an acoustic guitar, and the rest of us are singing along. We look like a bunch of hippies. Some are sprawled on the grass, the others find humor in boredom, I am busy with my phone. Time goes by cold, and the sky slowly turns bright white. We spend a couple of hours trying to find a room to crash at, and eventually a kind IITian is willing to let us use his room for day. I shower and plop myself on the bed, still not having recovered from my nausea-inducing neck. I shall not leave this room until it is time for the concert, or so I say now.

1:27 PM. 21st December. Student Activity Center. IIT.

I don’t stay put in the room after all. After foraging for food, I spot a 4-a-side football competition and enter, winning the first match but playing like a dick. Midway through the match, I hear the intro to Way Out Of Here. Porcupine Tree soundcheck. Oh wow. They play Open Car and Time Flies as well. People think that they’re playing the albums on the PA. I find a vantage point to catch the band, and sure enough, there they are. The sound is perfect. Two hours later, I reach the queue to enter the OAT – a fairly long and stagnant one. A few people break the barricade and run to the first segment of the line. I am fast enough, but not metal enough to do that. The police soon lathi charge the invaders, but the damage is done. I find a more subtle way to skip to the front of the line, but by the time I enter the OAT, both Something Relevant and Rosemary (the two other winners of last night’s prelims) have finished their set. I arrive just in time for Noiseware’s Smooth Criminal. The band is tight, although not the most creative in terms of technicality. The big opening act is Mumbai’s much loved Parikrama. I sit amongst a bunch of drunk and restless metalheads from my part of the country, and the band bashing begins even before Parikrama take the stage. The bands starts off with In The Middle, heavily influenced by and to the point of sounding just like AC/DC. Their next song Vapourize introduces the violinist with a sweet solo. I begin to like the acoustic intro on Am I Dreaming but the Creed-ish vocals puts me off. I dig this band enough so far. I haven’t seen them before and they make a pretty good first impression. Tears of the Wizard has a power metal feel to it, not far from Blind Guardian, being a tribute to LOTR. The pace slows down with the next song (Money Train if I heard correctly) and it has the soothing effect of a lullaby. The songs that follow, including Lachaim (was it?), Whiskey Blues and the violin-keyboards jam, put me to sleep. I find the music hereon remarkably boring or simply overdone. A shorter set would’ve done wonders, but the short rest does put some energy into me, so I don’t complain. I ditch my group and run to the front when the band is done.

8:45 PM. 21st December. Open Air Theater. IIT.

It has been around 30 minutes since Parikrama left the stage, yet there’s no sign of PT. The guitar tech does his business and leaves. I pick a spot towards the right of the stage in front of the speakers, about 10 feet from where Steven Wilson will be standing soon. The stage goes dark and suddenly turns blue. Porcupine Tree walks out. I stand on my toes to see all five and some feet of Wilson. Dressed in customary short t-shirt and jeans and barefoot, he smiles. A smile isn’t one of Wilson’s common expressions. They launch straight away into the heavy opening riff of Occam’s Razor. This riff is my least favorite from the whole of The Incident, but it sounds so so good at the moment. It has begun. They continue with Blind House from the same album, and not many people in the crowd respond apart from the shouts of Steven, Steven. The real deal begins with the intro to The Sound of Muzak, driving the crowd crazy. I find myself headbanging and I am surprised. In the five years that I’ve been listening to this band, I haven’t headbanged once to their music. They play Hatesong next, not one of my favorites but enjoyable just the same. When Wilson says that the next song is from Deadwing, we all know what’s coming. Lazarus. Shivers crawl down our spines as the entire crowd sings along to every line. Open Car is next. Wilson has terrific energy on stage, despite his seemingly subtle presence. Another thing I haven’t seen him do much in previous concerts is headbang, but he sure does headbang now. He pulls up a chair for the next one and switches to an acoustic to sing to us his story. I was born in ’67… Time Flies. It sounds even better than it did at soundcheck. Some trouble with the drums/bass amp crops up but the band pulls off the song perfectly despite that. Colin Edwin is in his signature angelic smile in spite of the commotion. Wilson apologizes for the inconvenience but we don’t care because they treat us with Blackest Eyes. The setlist seems heavenly so far, just as he had promised before the concert. The Start Of Something Beautiful delights me. I can’t see Gavin Harrison on the drums from where I’m standing but I can feel him belt the skins out, it seems like a metal band. A medley of Russia on Ice and Anesthetize follows. John Wesley gives absolutely sweet backing vocals. They pick the better songs from The Incident – Octane Twisted and The Seance and play them back to back continuing with Circle of Manias, all executed to perfection, much like every other song really. The intro to Way Out Of Here gives me the creeps. I love the setlist. The band bids goodbye after this song. The crowd is furious but I know they will come back. Stupid crowds irk me. This crowd screams and begs for PT even after the guitar tech places an acoustic on stage. The band does come back for the legendary Trains. Not a single person in the audience keeps mum. Wilson lets us sing the chorus and we don’t disappoint. Beauty in all its perfection. When the band finishes the song, I reach the point of an emotional breakdown but I am rudely shaken out of it by the intro to Halo. I don’t like the song much and Trains would have been a perfect ending for me. The crowd loves Halo though, especially the visualization. I hardly catch the visualizations because my head’s up and down motion never stops. I am completely honest when I say that I headbanged to PT more than Opeth and Amarth put together.  They are simply that intense on a live stage. It is only 10:15 but Halo is the last that PT will offer us. Wilson promises to come back to India soon, but isn’t that what every band says? I hope he comes back with Blackfield. Best show ever, by miles and miles. I said that for the last concert, but PT outclass everything I’ve seen and heard before. The execution is flawless, the ambience is overwhelming. I walk back slowly to my group, and some of them are stunned silent. Someone asks Aditya, who resides in New Zealand, “Dude, was Lamb of God better than this?” and he says, “Fuck no macha.” It takes us a while to compose ourselves but now we’re in a haze. Everything seems blurred and surreal. Porcupine Tree has done it.

4:23 PM. 23rd December. Somewhere after Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh.

On the train back home. We meet a few Christites also going back from the concert. Good company makes the long journey more than tolerable. I am tired and sleep deprived. Words are hard to stream. Screw it. This review is done.

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