Breathtaking. There is probably no more apposite remark for the feeling I felt at the end of the Steven Wilson show at London’s Royal Festival Hall. I suppose “brilliant”, “magnificent”, “stunning” would all do as well but I left the Southbank RFH a little bit dumbstruck, a little bit speechless and quite a lot awestruck at what I had witnessed in the previous two and a half hours.
Wilson is an unlikely figure for hero status; his slight frame, self-deprecating humour and slightly apologetic air aren’t your traditional recipe for hero, but hero this man is certainly becoming.
Wilson emerged from the shadows bang on time (take note messrs Rose and Bieber) to a thunderous reception, a heroic welcome. It was the return of the prodigal son with a proud mother looking on from the royal box.
Showcasing his new album, the brilliant and idiosyncratic “The Raven that Refused to Sing” in its entirety, as well as a good draw on his other solo efforts, this was a performance full of majesty, energy, nuance. At its core was some of the most sublime music performed by a set of brilliant and stunningly talented musicians it’s been my privilege to hear. Hyperbole? Maybe. No, wait, this was something else indeed.
I was a little uncertain about whether the RFH was going to be the best venue to showcase the record and this band’s talents but I should have known better. The venue’s sound system was phenomenal, as you’d expect,and it let the music breathe, creep, engage, cajole, provoke and envelope the audience. Couple this with a series of projections and short films to accompany each of the songs and you have the basic architecture for a performance that will linger long in the memory.
It’s hard and not a little churlish to have to select highlights from what was a mesmeric set from the opening art rock flourishes of Luminol to the towering coda of Radioactive Toys. If you did push me however, I’d say Postcard had a tenderness and fragility to it that brought a lump to the throat, Raider was by turns terrifying and thunderous; the new alum’s title track had grace and elegance running throughout its inherent melancholy and The Watchmaker had me standing and clapping and cheering its magnificence. But all of it, every last note was, just, well, fantastic really. If I had a cap, I’d be doffing it many, many times over, not just at Wilson but at each member of his band: the extraordinary Nick Beggs on bass; the dynamic Marco Minnemann on drums; the innovative and beguiling sax and woodwind from Theo Travis; Adam Holzman‘s brilliant, soulful keyboards and the jaw dropping guitar playing of Guthrie Govan. I know this sounds like fawning and a PR puff piece but I don’t care: each of these men deserve praise and credit for their parts.
One of the things about following music closely today is the oft heard phrase of how things aren’t like they used to be, how it was all better in someone else’s day. This has, variously, been the 1950s and the emergence of the teenager, the 60’s and Beatlemania or the 70s and the Golden Age of the LP.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. You know, after nights like this when you can leave a venue full of the joys of life you start to think that maybe, just maybe, the golden age is right now. Like I said: breathtaking.