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A Fond, Grateful Farewell to "The Incident" Tour

I’m back after several days off and, to answer your immediate question: Yes, the weather was stunning in, first, Tahiti, and second, Monaco. Thanks for asking.

One thing we did, closer to home, was attend a “special performance” last Friday in Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall by the immortal Porcupine Tree. It served as a farewell to the Stateside portion of their year-long tour behind the miraculous The Incident CD. What was unique about  this show is that it was one of only two such concerts they’re doing in that special format. The other takes place in a few weeks in London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Broken into three sets, the band played for three hours in a cross-cut examination of their voluminous catalog — and it was just tremendous. I’m happy the custodial folks at that venerated hall keep the place spotless; my jaw was on the floor basically the entire time.

P-Tree’s fan base has expanded, over the course of four American tours, and they've gone from playing smaller clubs like Lupo’s or Middle East to Berklee School of Music recital halls to the Webster Theater and on to the House of Blues circuit — and, as with last Friday, they now fill 6,000 seat halls.

Given the complexity of the material, this is a damned encouraging bit of exponential growth. It’s not just the Math-Head Prog Dudes at these shows anymore. There are actual Females and Young People and they know the songs so well they actually can sing along with the lyrics — just like other folks do at Maroon 5 or the Black Eyed Peas or Ke$ha shows! (That's, uh, sorta the only connection, I might add.)

What that tells us is the virtuosity of the musicians and the intricate nature of the musical arrangements doesn’t preclude across-the-board melodicism in P-Tree’s songs. Whether dipped in float-through-the-star-clusters atmospherics, cuffed in tricky dark metal or buttered in poppy psychedelia, Porcupine Tree at its core simply presents fantastic songs — it’s just that the band isn't remotely concerned by the Satanic constraints of the three-minute radio/download format. Strip your mind of those perimeters, so to speak, and your ears will happily follow.

As Tree leader Steven Wilson said at the start of the show, they were going to dip back into obscurities dating back to such ’90s albums as Stupid Dream, The Sky Moves Sideways and Up the Downstair, as well as B-sides and stuff ultimately left off original albums and available only on compilations or limited release EPs.

From the opening salvo — a five-song, acoustic-based mini-set designed to approximate an opening act — through two longer, full-electric marathons that integrated music and video from their more recent concept albums, The Incident and Fear of a Blank Planet, the band delivered an overwhelming and ambitious concert for the ages. Pushing against the venue-dictated three-hour time limit, they had time for only one encore song although, as Wilson pointed out, it was a (freakin') long one, the 12-plus minute masterpiece from Deadwing called "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here."


In June of '09, my wife Eileen and I were introduced in NYC to The Incident at a preview listening party. We then saw shows over the course of the tour in Boston, Dallas and, finally, the Radio City finale. Who knows what P-Tree will do next or when we'll see them again -- but thanks, dudes. Pretty  much anything else out there pales. Enjoy some time off.


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