I’ve made no secret of the fact that the greatest, and most unexpected musical discovery I made in 2007 was the band Porcupine Tree.
Although I was a bit of a late bloomer to this band, once I “got it,” I pretty much dove straight into the deep end of the pool — devouring everything I could get my hands on. Which proved to be a considerable task, since this band has apparently been the best-kept secret on this side of the pond since at least the mid-nineties.
So, in the way of a quick introduction for the uninitiated, Porcupine Tree began as a prog-rock band heavily influenced by people like Pink Floyd in the nineties on albums like The Sky Moves Sideways and Signify.
They have long since developed a harder, more distinctive sound uniquely their own on albums like Deadwing and this year’s great Fear Of A Blank Planet, which I named my #2 Album Of The Year, right behind Springsteen’s Magic.
In the #3 slot on that same list was Blackfield II, the second album from the side project of Porcupine Tree’s resident creative genius, Steven Wilson.
So heres the thing.
Back in the seventies when I did my time behind the counter at a record store, I used to live to turn my customers on to guys like this. Steven Wilson is an absolutely major songwriting talent lying in wait to be discovered. With Porcupine Tree, he creates these incredible soundscapes that veer from quiet nuance, to bludgeoning metallic knockouts that quite literally split your skull in two.
Blackfield is Wilson’s side project with Israeli singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen, that allows this amazingly prolific songwriter to explore lusher, more romantic pop terrain. Except for the fact that there is a dark edge to so many of these songs, masked as they are by the denser arrangements of Blackfield’s two albums.
What we have here is a live DVD recorded earlier this year at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom.
My review is simple. It’s great. Buy it. There’s nothing really fancy here. It’s a great, if very straight forward — there are no special effects or tricky camera angles — document of the event. Well okay, I’m a little bit mystified as to why Aviv Geffen has all of that glitter all over his face.
But no matter…
The performance captured here features nearly all of the songs from Blackfield’s two albums, as well an oddly chosen Alannis Morisette cover. The songs take on a harder edge in the concert setting, as opposed to the more nuanced versions found on the original albums. Still, they lose none of their emotional power here.
But rather than get into the specifics, I’m just going to go back to that guy I used to be behind the counter, and let these great songs speak for themselves.
“Christenings” is one of the best songs from Blackfield II, and details the chance meeting with a former fallen rock star in a record store.
“What happened to your guitar?/ What happened to the prettiest star?/Can you still play the songs that got you so far?”
“Black Dog sitting in the park/Odd looks from the mothers of the devil’s own/shoplifting, getting your essentials/gatecrashing christenings and funerals”
On “1000 People,” the song’s subject appears to be confronting his own alienation, even as the lights of fame are shown upon him:
A thousand people yell/ they’re shouting my name/but I wanna die in this moment/I wanna die”
On “End Of The World,” the singer laments that “it’s a prison for dreams and for hopes/but still we believe there is God.”
The song “Epidemic” speaks of an “epidemic of my heart…” that “takes hold and slowly poisons me”…
Besides being an excellent live performance, this DVD is a great introduction to an even greater songwriter — who I have a feeling we are going to be hearing much more from — in Steven Wilson.
Just get it.