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Porcupine Tree, Park West (Chicago), June 2007
By Jim Wormington

After spending hours on the tour bus with my good mates from Porcupine Tree…

(No, that’s not true--start again.)

From my privileged backstage position as journalist for Rolling Stone…

(Wait, that’s also a load of hooey--let’s get real now.)

From my paid-for, General Admission “seat,” which consisted of leaning against a wall on a little stairway at the Park West…

(Well, there we are--it’s not glamorous, it’s not impressive, but it is the unadulterated truth, at last.)

…I had the great pleasure of being witness to a top notch concert presentation with UK progressive rock band Porcupine Tree.

I call it a concert presentation because it was very heavy on the visuals, with three large screens providing a near-constant barrage of images. You had the sense that you were watching a rock-show-hybrid: it was VH1 meets Image Union meets Art School meets a regular old three-dimensional, real time, boys-playing-loud-hard-rock concert. A pleasing, captivating fusion I have to say.

Fusion is an apt word when considering Porcupine Tree. Their dramatic, often lengthy, compositions are both unique and a loving tribute to the sounds of many bands that have come before them: Pink Floyd (most notably), Yes, Rush, Moody Blues and Dream Theater (to name a few). 

They played the entirety of their current album, Fear of a Blank Planet, video streaming throughout, carefully crafted as a visual companion to the songs. Much of the video was presented in a jerky, blurry, time-lapse-fast-motion style. Lots of images of very young children, from toddlers to early teens, their eyes seeming void of emotion, absent hope, jaded and lost to the point of catatonia. Kids were staring into PC monitors, televisions and game screens; they were on trains, in phone booths, talking on cell phones, popping pills, under no adult supervision. The theme seemed pretty apparent: it was a critique of technology’s effect on modern culture, particularly youth. Dehumanization through mechanization, pharmacology, and consumerism, until we are a blank, unfeeling, disconnected society living in lost isolation. Not a pretty picture. But it was effective, powerful--it drew you in. The message--beware the dangers of technology dependence.

The irony that the whole show was being brought to you courtesy of busloads of technology only added another layer to the band’s art. There we were, drinking our Miller Lites, mesmerized by the high-tech sights and sounds. But our eyes were not blank or filled with fear (mostly), they were filled with awe, excitement, and, occasionally, delight.

These guys are (here comes the cliché) musician’s musicians. They really are. In every respect. Porcupine Tree’s vocals, instruments, percussion, electronics--all come together in brilliant staccato flashes of metal melting into moody Floydian interludes. They are the best of what progressive rock can be. 

Even with my great appreciation of and affection for Porcupine Tree, the eight, nine, ten-minute-plus songs can get a bit tedious to listen to. But not when you’re seeing it played. When you are feeling the hum in your rib cage, lights are flashing, fog is rolling and cool images are flashing--the experience is anything but tedious.

“Blackest Eye” and “Halo” were musical highlights for me, both followed by enthusiastic outbursts from the crowded Park West. 

In short, a really enjoyable show/sensory experience. Worth the hassle of driving into the big city and paying twenty bucks to park.

If they come to a theater near you, go see them. Tell them their close, personal friend Jim Wormington says, “Hey.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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