at The Carling Academy, Newcastle, UK, April 19, 2007

Porcupine Tree 2007

2007 will be viewed in years to come as the year that Porcupine Tree finally broke through into the big time. After several years of steady progress, critical acclaim and increasing album sales with each release, their new album Fear of a Blank Planet will finally see them breaking free of their cult status and catapult them into the major league with what is surely going to be one of the best albums of the year.

The last time Porcupine Tree was in the North East of England was back in 1996 to a select crowd in a small pokey hole of a venue. Tonight they have stepped up into the 2000 capacity Carling Academy, and by showtime the hall was very nearly full.

Porcupine Tree promised to air all of their Fear of a Blank Planet album during the tour, which one would think is a brave move considering that the album has been out for a mere four days by the time the band was to hit the stage. However, being a band willing to take risks, much of the material had been debuted later last year during a series of low key shows, which left audiences stunned and thrilled. Not many bands could get away with playing so much unreleased material, however Porcupine Tree fans expect the unexpected, so the new material is welcomed like an old long lost friend.

The band, which is based around guitarist and singer Steve Wilson, former Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin on bass, and drummer Gavin Harrison, all together with long standing collaborator, the talented John Wesley on guitar and vocals, opened the show with the intense title track from their new album before heading into more mellow territory with “Lightbulb Sun.”

As promised, over the course of the night, Porcupine Tree treated the audience to the full Fear of a Blank Planet album, interspersed with earlier material. “My Ashes” is possibly the most beautiful song the band have written in years, and Wilson’s emotion-drenched vocals with Barbieri’s hauntingly atmospheric keyboards weaved a tapestry of melody that touched on the more introspective fringes of Marillion and Talk Talk.

If “My Ashes” is the album’s most immediately accessible moment, then the ensuing 17-minute plus monolith “Anesthetize” is the most challenging. Twisting and turning, rising and falling, it touches so many different musical angles, culminating in a soaring guitar melody from Wilson that is stunning. If most bands hand out a song of this length, they would have lost many a fan, but Porcupine Tree’s performance had the crowd encapsulated and the 17 minutes whizzed by without anyone having to check their watches once.

Porcupine Tree may not be the most charismatic performers out there, but then no one here came to see the lead singer do gymnastics. Instead, the crowd was treated to a stunning display of musicianship and superbly crafted songs with dynamic atmospherics. To further enhance the music, many of the songs featured striking video montages constructed by long-time art director, Lasse Hoile. At times disturbing, the images perfectly contributed to the drama of the music and this was nowhere more evident than on “Way Out of Here,” where the tale of teenage angst and despair was set against a backdrop of a tear-stained girl walking along a railway track. This beautiful composition simply dripped with emotion, which left the entranced audience stunned at its climax. Great music should stir the emotions and this certainly did the trick.

The set closed with the brooding Eastern-influenced “Sleep Together,” with its Bonhamesqe driving beat and hypnotic keyboards providing a suitably powerful end to the night’s show. It must be said that the sound throughout the night was perfectly balanced, which is absolutely essential for a band such as Porcupine Tree where each component is vital and needs to be heard clearly to maximise the impact of their delivery. The soundman had it nailed to perfection.

The band returned with the mesmerising epic “Even Less” and the wonderful harmony-soaked “Sound of Muzak,” sending the audience home knowing that they had witnessed something special. Porcupine Tree have taken a huge step forward and look like they will be setting the benchmark for others to follow for some time to come.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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