Review Summary: If you were wondering what the visual equivalent of Porcupine Tree’s archetypal exquisite sonic production qualities would look like then you can cease your wondering as of now.
Live DVD’s are usually an occasion for jubilation for music fans, especially for those who don’t get to see their favourite bands in concert because their country is too unstable for the record label to allow the bands to travel there, or because when the bands are granted permission, the band travels to a city which is 15 hours from where said fans live. Hence DVD’s are released to quench that thirst for live performances, and when a certain band named Porcupine Tree (PT) decides to release a DVD your blood is bound to run to areas of your body you didn't know existed. And if there’s one thing you can be certain of, it’s that there’s one word that will not be compromised on, quality.
PT is renowned for its superb sound quality and therefore it’s no surprise that the production has been handled by the band itself, while the mixing of both the stereo and 5.1 audio tracks is taken care of by Mr. Steven Wilson. This leads to terrific results as expected but unfortunately since I am finicky I had my minor gripes with things including; the distorted guitar tones which at certain times were a bit too heavy and unpolished for my liking, and Gavins snare drum and tom-toms which needed a bit more “warmth” and reverb in my opinion (they sounded much better on the Arriving Somewhere…
DVD). Also the mix could’ve favoured the keyboards slightly more, especially during the heavier sections where they got drowned mainly by both the guitars.
These are only minor reservations and probably won’t bother most of the viewers. On the plus side the remaining instruments are very audible in the mix and feel very cohesive as a result, specifically the brilliant rhythm section. Likewise the clean guitar tones, Richard’s keyboards and Colin’s bass sound fantastic.
The direction of the DVD was handled by longtime collaborator Lasse Hoile (the man with pretty morbid fascinations), whose experimentation on the previous DVD was met with some criticism. The effects were accused of being distracting and detracting the viewer from the band’s performance. Personally I enjoyed them. This time though he didn't tamper with the video, just with the selection of the cameras during the editing. There are plenty of cameras at his disposal with the most interesting camera placement being below the tom-toms, which can be seen during the intro of “Anesthetise”. The camera work is good and runs the gamut from extreme close ups of the band members, which with the HD quality can allow you to assess how long it’s been since Steven Wilson last shaved, to distant views of the whole stage, and shots of the mesmerised faces of the audience. It really makes you feel like a part of the experience.
Some of the songs have accompanying video projections; however these can only be properly appreciated from certain camera angles. A few close ups of the screens during certain sections of the songs, and more usage of interesting camera angles would’ve really been impactful and I think should’ve been executed. The presentation is completed with the lighting, and plenty of gorgeously vivid colours have being used to enhance and alter the moods according to the songs and to really capture your attention, especially in songs like “Cheating the Polygraph” and “What Happens Now?”.
The set list has been divided into 2 segments more or less, with the first segment consisting of the whole Fear of a Blank Planet
album, and the second with a slightly wider array of songs. If you’re a fan of the older PT the set list won’t tickle your fancy as only 3 of the 17 songs are from before the current “metal” era of the band, and all of them are from the Signify
album. Even I, being a fan of the modern PT, was less than thrilled with the set as I had been longing to see songs like “Russia on Ice”, “The Sky Moves Sideways” and “Fadeaway” being performed in pristine HD quality. On the other hand a positive aspect of the set list is that only one song overlaps with the first DVD, and unsurprisingly it’s “Halo”.
Finally we have arrived at the most important part of the DVD, the performance itself. What more can you expect from such an esteemed live band? As expected the performances are absolutely stellar. Only John Wesley slips up here and there, and personally I've never been a big fan of his solos. Otherwise the musicianship is extremely tight, and every note is played perfectly without seeming contrived. It says magnitudes about your class when the live renditions of the songs are as good, if not better than the album versions. Everyone’s a joy to watch, especially Gavin and Steven, who are tremendous live performers. I am such a huge advocate of Steven’s guitar playing and think he is ridiculously underrated, truly a beast of a guitarist! Steven also shows us that he’s no novice at playing the keyboards live either (he regularly composes with them in the studio), and its good because it adds an interesting dynamic to the mix. You even see Richard smiling, more than once. That is probably reason enough to get this DVD.
My only complaint is that they don’t improvise any more like in the days of yore. You would think Gavin would, with his extensive jazz background, and we all know Steven's a big fan of experimentation and improvisation. But I digress, this a magnificent achievement indeed, and a strong addition to their already splendid catalogue. An excellent standard by which live performances should be judged. Very recommended for fans of Prog rock/metal.
I’ve given it a 4 mainly because of the set list, on other aspects it’s a 4.5+.
• Guitar playing on “Fear of a Blank Planet” and “Cheating the Polygraph”, which has the solo of the night (Stevens wah-wah skill is incredible!)
• Bass playing on “Normal” and “Anesthetise”
• Drumming on “Way out of Here” and “Cheating the Polygraph”
• Keyboard playing on “Sleep Together”, and keyboard solo on “Normal”
• Guitar tone on “Sever” and "Sentimental", terrific!
• Vocals on “Half-Light”
• Steven's keyboard tones
• Steven's extreme pop tinged vocals at the end of “Drown With Me”, I love this guy
• Fear of a Blank Planet, now thats how you start a show.
• Sleep Together! The song has been given a whole new life with the really heavy guitar work!