FESTIVAL REVIEW: An Evening with OPETH and STEVEN WILSON at BE PROG! MY FRIEND 2016
I confess that I’m obsessed with all things prog; especially anything that concerns Steven Wilson. My first tryst with the man was actually through Opeth’s ‘Damnation’ album exactly 10 years ago. I still remember the chill I felt as I listened to track after track, but what really stuck out for me was the melancholic “Hope Leaves”. Even now, I consciously remember falling in love with the production of the track, even though I didn’t know it was the ‘production’ I was referring to.
Fast-forward two years and a few more Opeth albums later, and my guitarist buddy Guru handed me some Blackfield material, and again I was surprised at how synced the music was to my personality. Over the next few years, I discovered Porcupine Tree of course, and hence, the prog seed was sown. One of my personal crowning achievements was recognizing Steven Wilson’s voice on one of my favourite Opeth tracks, “Bleak”, from their 2001 magnum opus ‘Blackwater Park’!
Of course, I had to see Porcupine Tree live, and I got the chance in December 2009. Living in India had its disadvantages as far as international acts go, and I just couldn’t believe Porcupine Tree were making an appearance. But alas, it was not to be! Living with parents during college meant being grounded from time to time due to unsatisfactory semester results and what not, and I didn’t make it to Mumbai to see the legends.
All things said and done, prog did not disappoint over the years – I saw Opeth and Meshuggah in India; Tool, Dream Theater, Mastodon, Karnivool and Opeth again when I moved to Australia. Yet Steven Wilson was nowhere in sight! And when all hope was lost on a Steven Wilson Australian tour, Be Prog My Friend’s lineup came to light some six months ago. I could not believe Steven Wilson and Opeth were both performing at the same stage in Barcelona, and I knew all the years of Steven-abstinence had led to this moment! I immediately bought two concert tickets for the missus and myself, and proceeded to use all my savings in the forthcoming months to plan an expedition to Europe.
Things quickly fell in place, and I planned the trip in a way that Be Prog was in the last leg of the trip. I even managed to fit in David Gilmour for the next day after Be Prog in Rome! During the course of the Euro Trip, I sported Opeth and SW tees in five countries, and it was an amazing feeling to see people giving me the horns up with a grin yelling “Opethhhhhhh!” or “Be Prog friendddddd!”
Finally came the day of the concert; I waited impatiently for the opening acts to get over, and first came Opeth! They were amazing, and delivered a stellar set list that appealed to even the most dedicated of fans. Numbers like “Heir Apparent”, “Deliverance”, “The Devil’s Orchard” and “The Leper Affinity” were extremely well received. Mikael Åkerfeldt was actually funnier than usual (if such a thing is possible). He introduced himself as Miguelito, and even invited bassist Martin Mendez to say a few dirty things to him in Spanish! The band’s synergy with the crowd was unlike the shows I had witnessed in India and Australia. It was hilarious to hear Åkerfeldt make a few cracks on Steven Wilson too, which ended with him asking the audience to applause slightly less during his leg of the show. You cannot imagine the feeling of ecstasy I felt, and the anticipation for Steven’s set accentuated even more.
After Opeth, Wilson’s set started with “First Regret”, the opening number from his latest full-length album ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’, and he walked in calmly with a smile I had never seen before. Of course, everybody went mad when he appeared! This was a surround-sound experience, and throughout the gig, you could hear textures and echoes of his disquieting voice making their way from the back. Two hours went by in a flash, and the enthusiasm at his set was unparalleled – especially when he donned his drop-tuned green PRS guitar for Porcupine Tree numbers such as “Sleep Together,” “The Sound of Muzak” and “Don’t Hate Me.” I especially enjoyed the trippy number “Vermillioncore” from his most recent EP release ‘4 1/2’, and he ended the show with the title track from ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing… and Other Stories’. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I literally saw a few people in tears by the end of it.
Next morning, the wife and I rushed from Barcelona to Rome to make it for David Gilmour’s show. It was a seated arrangement, and we were amazed by the sheer size of the visuals and the stage. While I personally didn’t jive too much to tracks from Gilmour’s latest album ‘Rattle That Lock’, classic Pink Floyd numbers such as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Time,” “Money,” and “Us and Them.” The ending was spectacular; “Breath” and “Comfortably Numb” brought back familiar childhood memories of endless reruns of ‘The Wall’ and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Fun fact – Steven attended the same show in Verona a week later.
We returned to Australia the next day, and the long journey back was filled with memories of my three heroes. It’s one thing to be a heretical fan and listen to your favourite records on heavy rotation; it’s quite another to see your heroes live in action, and hearing them address you as the audience in the flesh. Somehow it made them seem more human, and life is never going to be the same again!
The cherry on top of this amazing prog journey is that Steven did announce an Australian tour, and I hope to express my undying affection for his music in person. Until October, Steven!