Porcupine Tree – Live at Radio City Music Hall – 09/24/2010

A couple of days before the show, I ‘discovered’ Porcupine Tree’s twitter page, and so was prepared for a 3 hour show that featured one ‘half’ of a performance of The Incident, and one ‘half’ of them performing older material from the 1993-1999 period.

It didn’t turn out quite that way.  With two 10-minute breaks, they didn’t quite perform for 3 hours, they didn’t play The Incident in its entirety, and they didn’t just play other material from 1993-1999.  But, regardless, it was a pretty fantastic show (with only a minor quibble).  Here’s a mini-review, including the set list.  All listed comments from SW are from memory, so semi-accurate paraphrases.

<digression> To the owners of Radio City Music Hall: have you ever sold merchandise before?  I would have thought so.  Did you notice the near-crushing of people before the show due to the chaotic way you were running it? You might want to make note and have a meeting.</digression>

Porcupine Tree ‘Unplugged’

When the curtain first went up, there was a stand-up bass for Colin, SW with an acoustic guitar, a small drum kit for Gavin, a small Hammond-like organ for Richard, and then a regular (though smaller stack) guitar setup for John.  I wouldn’t say a groan went up from the crowd, but it was weird.  SW told the crowd “Up until around 7PM last night, we had no idea what we were going to do for this part.  But rest assured, for the whole show, we are going to be playing a lot of ‘old shit’” (and, of course, he did the thing with your fingers when he said ‘old shit’).  Here are the songs from this segment:

  • Stranger by the Minute
  • Small Fish
  • Pure Narcotic
  • Black Dahlia
  • Futile

After the first song, I did hear one random “Go electric!”, but overall the set was well-played and well received.  I did have a moment of horror when, before the last song, SW said “We were trying to think of what was the most inappropriate song to play in this format, and we agreed it’s definitely this one” and for a brief second, I thought they were going to play “Anesthetize” (as a reference point, I think Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” is the greatest abomination in the history of rock music), but, luckily that wasn’t the case.

This led to the first 10 minute break.

Next song set

Here’s the song list:

  • Even Less, full version
  • Open Car
  • Lazurus
  • Tinto Brass
  • The Sky Moves Sideways, phase one
  • I Drive the Hearse
  • Bonnie the Cat

I thought by far the best song/performance in this set was ‘Even Less.’  I recently got the re-issue of Recordings, so I’d heard it before, but it was absolutely phenomenal performed live.  At some point, SW did reference the fact that John left the stage for periods of time (as there were no parts for him from the older material), “He isn’t leaving because he’s incontinent.”  He also talked about how there’s a tradition at venues for acts to sign a ‘guestbook’ of sorts when they play, and that this time, instead of paging back in the book and seeing “Ultraviolet”, instead it included “Conan O’Brien” and “Oprah Winfrey.”

Before playing “I Drive the Hearse”, he mentioned that the original plan had been to play The Incident in its entirety, but that for time reasons, they changed plans.  I have no idea why the ‘3-hour rule’ was strictly in effect.  Did they need to prep the Hall for a Knicks game? (joke)  It did re-enforce for me what I’ve felt from its release, that there is something about the 55-minute ‘song cycle’ that doesn’t hang together for me.  I can’t explain why exactly.  There are various ‘concept albums’ that fit together due to recurring musical passages or lyrical phrases (in better and worse ways).  The best contrast I can think of (and it isn’t a great one) is Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, Roger Waters’ swan song with Pink Floyd that centers around the Falklands War and a marital breakup (or something, proving definitively how weird he is).   As odd of a recording that that is, there’s something about how “Not Now John” flows into “Two Suns in the Sunset” that seems to tie the whole thing together.  When “I Drive the Hearse” comes at the end of The Incident, I just think “Great, here’s my favorite track.”

One other note: I just noticed on another site that had the total set list (since I needed to verify some of the older tracks) that there’s some disagreement about what “The Sky Moves Sideways” piece was played.  If you go onto YouTube (as I did as part of my verification), you can find “The Sky Moves Sideways, parts one and two” as recorded in San Fran in 1999 (IIRC), which is not exactly what ‘Phase One’ is as recorded.  There’s a couple minutes different.

And yes, that is a total nerd ‘other note’.

At this point, there was another 10 minute break

Last song set

Here’s the song list:

  • Occam’s Razor
  • The Blind House
  • Great Expectations
  • Kneel and Disconnect
  • Drawing the Line
  • Dislocated Day
  • Time Flies
  • Anesthetize, part 2
  • Up the Downstair
  • Sleep Together

“Time Flies” is fantastic as a live song (and “Drawing the Line” is one of those songs that I enjoy more live than on recording), as is “Sleep Together.”  I *hate* that they don’t play the full version of “Anesthetize.”  I can’t think of a similar contrast, maybe if Led Zeppelin played a ‘short version’ of “Stairway to Heaven” or something.  Other than that, it was a good set.


SW announced “we only have time for one more song” (again with the weird 3-hour rule….if they had tried to go 4 hours, would the Teamsters go on strike or something?), “but it’s a fucking long one” and they launched into my favorite PT song “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.” 

And that was that.  Except for what they did to “Anesthetize”, I can’t really complain, it was a very enjoyable show, and, for me, the live rendition of the full version of “Even Less” was worth it.

I imagine that between now and then, the London Special Event will be a bit different.  For whatever reason, PT apparently didn’t record this concert (the guy in the seat next to me did, asking me not to clap too loud) and won’t record the London show.  I’m sure there’s an engineer’s tape out there somewhere.

posted on Monday, September 27, 2010 7:10 PM Print
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