Academy 1, Manchester. 10/12/2009
By Chris Oliver
Was there ever a time when bands had sensible, meaningful names? The question torments me on my journey to watch Porcupine Tree and North Atlantic Oscillation.
N.A.O. are a Scottish three-piece – although their bassist/keyboardist does his best to ensure they sound bigger. Plenty of retro noise-making, loops and atmospheric noise ensures there’s hardly a moment’s silence here. ‘Soundscapes’ might be a better word for much of their material and the vocals often play the role of an instrument, rather than leading the line. There’s too much going on to really fully appreciate on just one listening. A very eclectic mix of frantic beats, odd time signatures and all sorts of often other-worldly sounds, it isn’t particularly dance-able stuff – but then I don’t expect everyone to be dancing when Porcupine Tree take the stage either. The set, if anything, descends a little further into madness as it progresses – and as quietly as they arrived, I could happily listen to more when they leave.
The headliners show off just how technical and well-rehearsed they are with a carefully-worked intro. On the screen we’re treated to some bizarre imagery, and throughout the night it becomes clear someone’s put a lot of hours into the visuals.
Lead singer Steven Wilson announces that the first half is going to be a reproduction of the first disc of their latest release ‘The Incident’. It’s rare these days for audiences to be credited with an attention span of longer than three minutes, so this was refreshing. Playing a disc start-to-finish shows just how much thought has gone in, and how happy the band is with the end product.
The second half opens with another take on the same intro from the first, and then we’re treated to some older, heavier songs. We get the whole gamut of Porcupine Tree – long hair and moshing alternating with stools and acoustic guitars. The band don’t quite have the stage presence to stop this gig from becoming a tad turgid but we get some belters in ‘I Drive the Hearse’ and ‘Anesthetize’.
Wilson asks the crowd to sing along to ‘Lazarus’ from their debut album and the audience oblige – clapping and singing their way through what’s probably the night’s most “normal” offering. After a few more he says, “Final words will be… Manchester, thank you so much – goodnight”!
Fear not – the obligatory encore followed.