Ram's Head Live; Baltimore, MD; May 22, 2007

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

It has been a long time since I’ve reviewed a concert for the Rough Edge’s “Live Reviews” page. In fact, aside from one concert I reviewed in 2004, the last show I reviewed was back in 2003 when I reviewed the 2003 Porcupine Tree show that featured Opeth as the opening act. Of course, Rough Edge has eased its coverage of live shows in recent years so I'm not alone in that.

For whatever reason I had missed Porcupine Tree in recent years in support of their “Deadwing” release and another trek supporting the recent “Arriving Somewhere” DVD release. However, I had every intention of seeing the band perform in support of their latest ‘concept’ album “Fear of a Blank Planet.”

Including myself, a group of four was composed for this particular jaunt for the exciting event of Porcupine Tree in concert. Needless to say the excitement level was pretty high – so we distracted ourselves by talking about medical insurance fraud, communism (not really), recent topics on political talk shows, and otherwise scaring the bejesus out of one member of the group by discussing the relative merits of Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Cryptopsy, Skinless, Decapitated, and Rotting Christ.

My history with the Ram’s Head franchise goes all the way back to 1990 when the original bar in Annapolis was a place more akin to the Bull and Finch Pub. At that time the Ram’s Head was able to accommodate one guitarist with an acoustic guitar in the bar’s cramped basement. That original bar still remains yet it has been expanded to include a brew-pub, a restaurant, and an intimate concert venue. The Ram’s Head has opened bars and restaurants in three other locations in Maryland and Delaware as well as a concert hall, restaurant and bar in Baltimore – this is the now famous Ram’s Head Live concert venue. What’s great about the Ram’s Head Live is the fact that it is a venue that is sized to attract acts and artists that would have otherwise skipped Baltimore in the past.

Only a few days before the concert did I learn that Three would be the opening act. Three, hailing from Woodstock, NY, was known to me via their Metal Blade release “Wake Pig” from a few years back. Three got the show started in earnest with a rousing set with a progressive sound that is informed by rock (classic and indie forms), hard rock, and metal styles. Unlike most opening acts, Three are different enough to keep concert-goers interest and at least instill the feeling that they might actually eventually escape the clutches of “opening act” status into something bigger. Most of Three’s set included tracks from the “Wake Pig” release, but a couple of new songs were played as teasers for the upcoming release of their new album. Three’s sound is a bit of paradox – it’s a bit dark, but somehow a bit spirited at the same time. Three’s performance was, to this listener, intriguing. 

Having already seen Porcupine Tree back in 2003 while supporting the “In Absentia” release I pretty knew what to expect: a stellar performance.  One member of the group disclosed that information circulating on the web suggested that Porcupine Tree were going to play the entire “Fear of a Blank Planet” disc – possibly in order at the beginning of the show. I wasn’t sure if I was really happy about this piece of news. 

Porcupine Tree did, in fact, play the entire “Fear of a Blank Planet” disc; it was performed in order with other PT gems and two non-album tracks inserted throughout. In the end I found that I did enjoy listening to the new album in its entirety – it seemed much more satisfying in reality than I had imagined in the hours leading up to the concert. Of all the songs from “Planet” it was “Sentimental” that was the most startling – this track took on a new level of desperation and color of pain that is not necessarily heard in the original. 

The Porcupine Tree gems throughout the show included “Lightbulb Sun,” “Blackest Eyes,” “Open Car,” “Gravity Eyelids,” “Sever,” and “A Smart Kid.” The inclusion of “A Smart Kid” was particularly special to this fan. The two non-album cuts included were “Drown with Me” as part of the regular set and the instrumental “Mother and Child Divided” as the middle of a three-song encore. The encore included the classic began with “Even Less” and ended with an energetic “Halo.” 

Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson was joined the usual suspects – leading to what can probably be considered a fairly stable lineup – including John Wesley on guitar and backing vocals (make Wesley a permanent member already!), Richard Barbieri on keyboards and synthesizers, Colin Edward on bass, and Gavin Harrison on drums. The band sounded great at all times – remaining true to the sound of the PT catalogue, but never in the "sounds just like the record" that might lead one to be suspicious. The band found that difficult balance by staying close to the originals in terms of sound and arrangements, but able to inject freshness and energy that only playing live can do. 

So I’ve already told you that Ram’s Head Live is a clean venue – but how about the acoustics? Well, the acoustics were damn good in my opinion. I firmly believe the member of our group who expressed the thought that acts will soon be using Ram’s Head Live as a venue for recording live shows. 

Many thanks to Neal, Kirk, and Ron for attending the show with me. And many thanks to Steve for properly informing me of Three’s uniqueness prior to the show. 

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Copyright © 2007 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:16 -0400.