Now this is more like it.
Porcupine Tree’s second official live DVD (and their first to be released on Blu-ray) is such a marked improvement over the British progressive rock band’s previous attempt — 2006’s Arriving Somewhere — it makes the former look like a mere test run for the real thing.
Recorded in October 2008 during a stop at Tilburg in the Netherlands, Anesthetize captures Porcupine Tree on two particularly hot nights during the Fear Of A Blank Planet Tour. The first big difference you notice here is in the video quality. Where Arriving Somewhere was often plagued by irritating, cheesy and often grainy looking video effects, director Lasse Holie wisely steers clear of any such artsy sideshows here, concentrating purely on the band and what is happening onstage.
Utilizing multiple cameras and angles, the end result comes about as close to actually being there as you can get. But the thing that really makes Anesthetize stand out is the way that the cameras divide the action equally between each of the band members.
Although PT singer/songwriter/guitarist Steven Wilson often gets the lion’s share of the attention in this band — and rightly so — Anesthetize shows just how great the rest of these guys are as individual musicians, and how much of an actual “band” Porcupine Tree really is.
As much as this benefits all four musicians (or five, if you count perennial “guest” John Wesley on guitar and vocals), the one who emerges as the true star is drummer Gavin Harrison.
With many of the shots filmed from behind Harrison’s kit, you see everything from the double-bass movements of his feet during “Halo” to the all of those little cymbals and bells he hits during the intricate drum parts on “Anesthetize.” Harrison’s status as a world-class skinsman is no secret to PT fans of course. But seeing it up close and personal is a revelation.
Likewise, the contributions of keyboardist Richard Barbieri and bassist Colin Edwin come into much sharper focus here. On “Anesthetize,” you hear Edwin playing bass parts you never even knew were there before, and the sweep of Barbieri’s keyboards during songs like “Dark Matter” and “Sentimental” is so deep it nearly swallows you. On the latter, there is also a very cool shot near the song’s end where the keys themselves are reflected in Barbieri’s ever-present shades.
Guest guitarist John Wesley’s role (and when are they just going to make this guy a full band member, anyway?) is likewise revealing, particularly in how he delivers many of the guitar solos I’d always thought were played by Steven Wilson. The guitarist is also responsible for more of Porcupine Tree’s vocals than I previously realized — particularly on songs requiring a higher vocal range than Wilson’s, like “Way Out Of Here.”
Anesthetize likewise boasts a magnificent sound mix that is rich in detail when it’s needed, but also packs with plenty enough power to rattle the windows and piss off some neighbors.
Porcupine Tree fans should also find little, if any, fault with the setlist on Anesthetize. It kicks off with all six tracks from FOABP, going on to include most of its companion EP, Nil Recurring. From there you get a very generous sampling of tracks from Signify (“Dark Matter,” “Sever,” “Sleep Of No Dreaming”), In Abesntia (“Wedding Nails,” “Strip The Soul”), Deadwing (“Halo”) and more.
It’s not always 100% perfect, though. During Steven Wilson’s guitar solo on “Dark Matter,” for example, there are points where the cameraman can’t seem to decide whether to focus on Wilson’s fingers on the fretboard or to shoot him from the chest up — so for a few seconds there, you have a headless Steven Wilson.
But when Anesthetize shines — which it does about 95% of the time — this is just about the best live concert film a fan could hope for, and a dramatic improvement over its DVD predecessor. They nailed it this time.