Porcupine Tree, ANESTHETIZE: LIVE IN TILBURG, OCTOBER 2008 (Kscope, 2cd/1dvd, 2015).
I admit, I have a strange relationship with Steven Wilson. Well, ok, it’s a totally one-sided relationship.
I’m a relative late comer to his music. As chance happened (as chance does), I actually turned on a radio (something I’d really not done since the late 1980s) while driving through Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the early fall of 2002. And, miraculously, at that moment, the station was playing something from IN ABSENTIA.
“Trains,” I think.
Regardless, I was utterly blown away. I loved the arrangement, the vocals, and the lyrics. My first thought was that this was a cross between Rush and Radiohead. Immediately, I had to purchase a copy of the album, which, as it so happened, the local Best Buy had a copy of. An independent music store in the area also had copies of several earlier PT albums, and I bought those, too. Quickly, I had the whole back catalogue. One of my favorite students (then and still), Chase, gave me a copy of the box set, STARS DIE. As much as I loved the music that came with the set, I was even more taken with the expansive booklet, full of a million details about the band.
Immersing myself in the back catalogue of PT was nothing but a pure joy. I felt as though I was diving into some kind of alternative world for interesting artists, being invited to come and play with the cool kids. Everything Wilson did seemed rather magical. Whether it was psychedelic whimsy, pop, shoegaze, metal, fusion, or just plain rock, PT’s diverse and eclectic embrace of styles enthralled me. Further, I really felt as though Wilson and I had experienced the same musical education. I’m only about 2 months older than Wilson, and, despite the Atlantic ocean separating us, a common age matters quite a bit.
Then, of course, came XM, FUTILE, DEADENING, ARRIVING SOMEWHERE, ROCKPALAST, FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET, NIL RECURRING, WE LOST THE SKYLINE, ISOSAARIROCK, ATLANTA, THE INCIDENT, AND OCTANE TWISTED—each of which I bought on the day of release.
It seemed a never-ending feast, past, present, and future.
About a year ago, Kscope rather quietly released a 2 cd/1 dvd book version of ANESTHETIZE, previously available via Blu-Ray. It’s taken from an October 2008 show in Tilburg. And, somehow, I missed it when Kscope released it last May. Repenting of this error, I recently purchased it.
Holy schnikees, I’m so glad I did.
With so much hoopla, hullabaloo, and news surrounding the four and ½ solo albums Wilson has released, I’d kind of left Porcupine Tree off to the side of my musical listening pleasures. What a mistake. ANESTHETIZE is truly a thing of wonder. While even classic PT songs come across with a more post-IN ABSENTIA heavier edge than they originally sounded, ANESTHETIZE reveals just how tight and creative the band was at its best. Well, even the post-In Absentia songs seems a bit heavier on Anesthetize than they do on their studio equivalents. This is especially true of PT’s outstanding track, “Normal,” a song that is actually better than the version released on FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET, “Sentimental.” Interestingly enough, PT plays both songs during the concert. “Sentimental” appears as the fourth track of the replaying of FEAR. “Normal” is the second track of disk two of ANESTHETIZE. It sounds much more like “Sentimental” in concert than it does in its original form on NIL RECURRING. Regardless, I’m thrilled that PT played both versions at the Tilburg show. I would’ve loved to hear each live.
Though the concert at Tilburg follows rather carefully FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET and NIL RECURRING, it also has songs from SIGNIFY, IN ABSENTIA, and DEADWING. In some odd way, PT performs them so perfectly and tightly that ANESTHETIZE could be a comprehensive and original album, in and of itself.
Why so tight? I’m not sure. There’s no doubt that Wilson, Colin Edwin, Richard Barbieri, Gavin Harrison, and John Wesley, have something quite special going. At the risk of ticking off half of you, I’m tempted to compare PT to Steven Wilson’s solo career. I’m not sure what such a comparison would gain, however. In many ways, PT is Steven Wilson 1.0 and his solo career is Steven Wilson 2.0. And, yet, it’s not quite this simple. Both bands are tight, and the music of each is glorious. What hits me hard listening to and watching ANESTHETIZE is just how orchestral and spacey (in the best way) PT is. There’s something mysterious and adventuresome that I find missing in the solo career. This may be, however, simply because I came to PT late but have been following Wilson rather closely since INSURGENTES.
Regardless, for many reasons, I’m happy to have purchased ANESTHETIZE. It’s a reawakening to something I had put aside. Not quite lost, but not quite found, either. At the very least, until ANESTHETIZE reminded me of the glory of PT.