Porcupine Tree - Manchester Academy 2 - 5.3.03

Long before Radiohead unleashed Kid A or indeed OK Computer on the world, Porcupine Tree were freestyle jamming their own prog rock masterpieces onto a select audience whose world started and ended with Pink Floyd. Out on the road to support their first major label debut and sadly disappointing "In Absentia" album it is somewhat worrying that at the same time the gig has been upgraded due to last minute ticket rushes that people only get to hear what is the worst representation of the band imaginable.

As the band launch into the out of character "Blackest Eyes" it's clear that things have changed. There are still the trademark harmonies and swirling atmospherics on "The Sound Of Muzak" and "Wedding Nails" that Steven Wilson Aka Porcupine Tree is known for, but there are riffs so lumpen and retro that only Audioslave could play it and get away with it. Wilson standing barefooted on a mat is just about the most pretentious site imaginable, but it was this total pretension armed with an ego that would happily play a 15 minute song with extended guitar solo that attracted people to the band. Even though "Lightbulb Sun", the bands previous album, took a step into recording structured songs it still had that experimental angle and "In Absentia" lacks everything that made the band special. At times there are moments where the band dip into the bland uninspired territory of Coldplay and it's then you have to question what went wrong.

It's not until the encore when the band launch into the classic "Russia On Ice" after asking how many people have seen us before to which virtually the whole crowd cheer. How many people haven't seen us before? A couple of people bring their hands together at the back. Well that's the UK Marketing for you bemoans Wilson totally forgetting the fact that he's just recorded the worst album of his career and not realizing that all we actually want is "Lightbulb Sun" on repeat with added guitar solos. Once he actually has time to step away from "In Absentia" hopefully he'll get back on track and take the prog rock to logical and ridiculous conclusions rather than watering it down as he has for the major label. God knows when the next Porcupine Tree album will be out or whether he indeed will take a Brian Wilson sized stretch out of the limelight before returning to play classic lost albums for a nostalgic cult fanbase. One things for sure - better that than just destroy what he's achieved so far.

Alex McCann

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