This is an absolutely fabulous live document, let me say that much right up front.
But I also have to admit that it's a little weird to see Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson playing before a live audience in what amounts to mostly a sideman role. What a sideman he is, by the way. But more on that in a minute. On Mixtaped, unlike his live DVD sets with both PT and Blackfield, Wilson doesn't say two words to his audience throughout this entire DVD.
In fairness, frontman and vocalist Tim Bowness barely does either. Well okay, he does thank the audience a couple of times and also intros the song "Days In The Trees" by saying perhaps No-Man should play at least one song that was played during their last appearance at London's Bush Hall (the one captured here is from 2008). But even then, he never smiles.
But it is exactly this undertone of deadly seriousness that works so perfectly within a group like this one. Even the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling suggest highbrow, but in the case of No-Man this is definitely a good thing.
Visually speaking, Bowness is a picture of that earnest sort of seriousness. His eyes are often closed tightly, as though completely engrossed in every word he sings, and he doesn't really move about all that much. You could probably even accuse Bowness of being somewhat wooden onstage.
In terms of his actual voice, the best word I could use to describe it is dramatic — perhaps even to the point of being slightly overwrought. Think of a slightly less gay Marc Almond from Soft Cell and you wouldn't be that far off.
The criticisms end there however. Bowness's voice works perfectly well within the context of No-Man's songs.
Genre-wise, No-Man can be really all over the map — they've incorporated elements of everything from electronic trip-hop to avant-jazz on their studio albums. But the common thread — at least most of the time — is the lush, and yes moody, romantic pop that is at the center of No-Man's best work. In that respect, Bowness's voice is a perfect fit for what they do.
But back to this DVD.
Officially, No-Man exists as the duo of Wilson and Bowness. Onstage, they are fleshed out by a full complement of bass, drums, keyboard, violin and a second guitarist. The transformation of these songs from their studio creations to the more fleshed-out live versions is nothing short of a jaw-dropper — and Wilson in particular is a revelation on guitar.
I never expected a No-Man concert to be more of a showcase for Wilson's guitar work than a Porcupine Tree show, but that is indeed the case here. Wilson doesn't so much shred the way he does with PT here, but rather just fills the room with waves of gorgeous harmonic sound.
On songs like "Time Travel In Texas" and especially the feedback-drenched workout on "Mixedtape," Wilson's guitar is absolutely out-of-this-world sounding. The sounds that Wilson gets out of that green Les Paul knockoff and those pedals of his — which he plays barefoot! — sound positively unearthly. On a slightly slowed down version of "Days In The Trees," Wilson's guitar textures weave effortlessly in and out of Steve Bingham's very cool looking see-through violin. Second guitarist Michael Bearpark is no slouch either.
I should also make mention of the sound on this DVD. Both the 5.1 and the stereo mixes sound great, and they do a wonderful job of separating the many layers of this very complex music. You hear every single nuance, from the simple jazzy flourishes of the drums, to the colors provided by the synthesized strings and violin, to all of that beautiful noise emanating from Steven Wilson's guitar.
Mixtaped also comes with a second disc that includes an 85-minute documentary film about No-Man's career. Among the more interesting revelations found here are how the "daisy age" hip-hop of bands like De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest influenced No-Man, and the fact that Porcupine Tree was in fact once considered a side project for Wilson. There are also a number of No-Man videos included here.
But the biggest revelation of Mixtaped is the way it reveals a previously unknown, new side of No-Man's sound. You'd never know it from the studio records, but in concert this may just be Steven Wilson's best guitar-based band.