9:30 Club; Washington, DC; 08/15/03

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

I had been eagerly anticipating this tour ever since it was announced back in early Spring 2003. As the day approached I reminded myself that most of my sojourns to Washington, D.C. were usually fraught with some kind of freakish aberration that threatened to make my day, save for the concert itself, a fairly miserable experience. And it didn't take long for that fear to practically come true.

On the way to the show, my friend Kirk and I decided to eat at Wendy's for dinner. Well, it turned out that Wendy's didn't have any French fries how fucked up is that? At least if that was the worst part of my day then I was perfectly okay with it in the grand scheme of things. As expected, I experienced the usual trials and trepidations trying to get my interview with Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson - although I don't want that to sound like a problem because it really wasn't.

The air was thick with anticipation as the night was going to feature only two 90-minute sets - one each from Opeth and Porcupine Tree. I always love the surprises that local and/or unknown support acts can offer, but the pairing of Opeth and Porcupine Tree was begging for this kind of format: two great bands, two long sets, and a minimal waste of time.

Opeth took the stage to resounding cheers. Based on discussions before the show nearly everyone in attendance anticipated hearing the mellow "Damnation" in sequence followed by a few other Opeth tracks (this information no doubt gleaned from Internet message boards). And that's exactly what happened - Opeth played "Damnation" in sequence. Most of the songs were fairly straightforward renditions save for a revved up and extended version of "Closure." I don't often mention the lighting at concerts, but Opeth's use of simple and understated lighting effects made their set all the more impressive.

Opeth were in fine form and were aided admirably by Spiritual Beggars keyboardist/backing vocalist Per Wiberg. In my opinion Per Wiberg was the MVP of the evening as he made the Opeth sound complete during these unique, and probably never to be repeated, circumstances.

As promised by Akerfeldt, at the end of the sequential playback of "Damnation" Opeth played a few more songs. First up was "Benighted" from the stellar album "Still Life" - watching Akerfeldt switch to acoustic guitar made the moment seem all the more realistic and natural - no cheating with electric guitars on this song! Digging back to the "Morningrise" album Opeth played "To Bid You Farewell" that actually contained a little bit of the heavy and rough sound so desired by many Opeth fans in the audience. "To Bid You Farewell" was a nice addition to the set list as it brought a little of the band's progressive, bass-heavy past into a new light. Next up was a special choice of a cover tune - Opeth played Deep Purple's "Soldier Of Fortune." This caught a lot of folks by surprise as I don't think Opeth had played it at any of their gigs leading up to tonight's performance. The use of "Soldier Of Fortune" was a nice nostalgic bookmark to Akerfeldt's self-proclaimed 'Camel rip-off song' "Ending Credits" during the "Damnation" part of the show. And that wasn't all - Opeth ended their set with a rousing rendition of another classic song from the "Still Life" album: "Face Of Melinda."

At least we know that Mikael Akerfeldt is becoming even more comfortable with his English. Akerfeldt chatted so much between songs that I damn near thought I'd find a film crew for VH1's Storytellers if I looked hard enough. Additionally, Akerfeldt playfully went along with a 'heckler' who wanted to hear the heavier side of Opeth. Akerfeldt retorted with numerous good natured put-downs and had the crowd laughing - it seemed odd for anyone to be laughing during such melancholic musical output, but it seemed quite natural this evening. It is also worth reporting that Akerfeldt said that the next Opeth album would be quite extreme and could even possibly be a concept album loosely themed with cults.

After a fairly quick set changeover Porcupine Tree took the stage to the delight of those remaining in attendance. I say 'those remaining in attendance' because quite a few folks left after Opeth's set. This puzzles me; why on God's green Earth would anyone skip a performance by Porcupine Tree? I figured, at the very least, Opeth fans would want to see Steven Wilson and fellow bandmates who have had such an important role in Opeth's development over Opeth's last three albums. And that's not even mentioning Porcupine Tree as being one of the most underrated progressive rock bands on the planet. It didn't seem to bother Porcupine Tree frontman Steve Wilson too much - Wilson joked about the audience members that had already left.

Porcupine Tree drew heavily from their latest offering "In Absentia." Seven of the band's thirteen songs were taken from "In Absentia" with the tracks "Blackest Eyes," "Sound Of Muzak," and "Gravity Eyelids" getting things started in earnest. The same guy who heckled Opeth to 'play heavy metal' gave Porcupine Tree a little grief as well. Porcupine Tree immediately launched into Steven Wilson's self-described heaviest song the band has ever done: "Futile." What's that? You didn't recognize "Futile" either? "Futile" is a recently recorded song that reflects Porcupine Tree's recent angle into heavier music - I hope an abbreviated version ends up on a future album.

Porcupine Tree then took a twin picking of songs from the album "Stupid Dream" in the form of "Even Less" and "Slave Called Shiver." It's a shame more songs weren't played from the album "Stupid Dream," but I have to admit that those two tracks were good ones to pick. The songs were stretched out into jams; "Even Less" was especially ripe for an extended jam and it approached the length and creative oeuvre of the version found on the hard to find 'b-sides' album "Recordings."

Going back even further into the band's catalogue, Porcupine Tree plucked the exquisite "Waiting" from the "Signify" album - nice selection as well from an album that easily could have drawn three or four songs for the set without seeming out of place. Most people think of Porcupine Tree from the album "Stupid Dream" and forward. However, I highly encourage folks to go further back in time for the previous album "Signify" which (to me anyway) is the beginning of the current incarnation of Porcupine Tree.

Porcupine Tree made what I considered to be the best selections of the evening when playing the tandem of "Hatesong" and "Russia On Ice" from the "Lightbulb Sun" album. On these two tracks Porcupine Tree's collective abilities shone brightly. It was awe-inspiring enough just to hear Porcupine Tree weave their unique abilities into a staggeringly good tapestry of music, but these two songs take it to another level especially given the organic vibe that live performances allow for.

To close the main set Porcupine Tree chose to play two more tracks from their latest album "In Absentia." The somber "Heart Attack In A Lay By" was an odd choice for an encore, but allowed for a crushing groove-laden and Tool-inspired "Strip The Soul" to be the perfect closing song.

Porcupine Tree responded to the audience's calls for more music by playing an encore of the heavy instrumental "Wedding Nails" and the understated "Trains." Both tracks are from the band's latest effort "In Absentia" and proved to be the perfect cap to strong set.

In my opinion Porcupine Tree choose 'heavier' songs to accommodate the Opeth audience in addition to the fact that I truly believe Steven Wilson hasn't fully explored his inspirations from the more extreme side of metal. I shouldn't forget to mention Porcupine Tree's 'fifth' member who I believe was John Wesley, who did a fine job on guitar and backing vocals, and was instrumental in making the Porcupine Tree so rich and full this particular evening.

The Opeth and Porcupine Tree pairing is one of the strongest tour packages to occur in recent years - by all means catch these bands if you can.

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Copyright 2003 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:16 -0400.