Review Summary: A special and energetic "live" album with a set list that could have been better.
Pitfalls litter the way when it comes to effectively producing a live album. Whether it is a boring or excessively excited crowd, technical difficulties or cheap recording equipment, the project often seems destined to fail. Porcupine Tree manage to avoid many of these pitfalls on their live recordings and Warszawa is no exception.
It should be made clear that this is not a traditional live album. This recording is taken from a 2001 live broadcast performance for the Polish radio program III. This is an interesting album because the show actually takes place in a studio, not a concert hall. The audio quality is noticeably improved by that fact alone.
Also, a special invitation was extended to a small audience to give the show more of a “live” atmosphere. It was a good move. The sound of a crowd can often be irritating because of a few obnoxious people who only attended the concert to get their voice on tape. Here, however, it is clear the crowd actually came to listen and interact supportively with the band.
One great thing about this recording is the fresh, live energy the band injects into their old material. Tracks like Voyage 34 have never sounded better. Where the original studio effort was somewhat flat and overlong, this live version features a more metallic punch. Voyage 34 live is more focused and driven. The song’s structure is concise and the band even plays in perfect time with the narrations from the original recording.
Many of the narrations and samples from the song’s studio versions are maintained for this performance. The entire sample of a cultist sermon plays overhead while Wilson and the gang play out the final pieces of Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth… and the sound of children at play is still perfectly audible in the opening of Lightbulb Sun.
Other highlights from the show include the fan favorite, Even Less. Once again, the band manages to infuse the power of the live setting into the song. Yet somehow, they still maintain the orchestral overtones of the studio version. This positive note also rings true on the massive centerpiece of the set list, Russia on Ice.
A lone complaint with this album would be the narrow scope of the material. More than 80% of the songs come from Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun albums. Both of those albums are good, but after marveling at the fervent display of their older songs, Voyage 34 and Signify’s title track, one is left wishing for more variety in the set list. That perspective may be more of a personal one though.
As stated earlier, shortcomings are usually expected with live albums. A band does not have the studio resources to clean up their messes. Human error is a constant threat in the live setting. However, if a band is able to harness these dangers and use them to their advantage, a very organic, natural-sounding product could be the result. With Warszawa, Porcupine Tree reached those ends.