Thursday, July 8, 2010

Porcupine Tree live in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2010

Last night I saw one of my favourite bands perform live, and it was the best rock concert I have ever seen (not that I have seen many...).

[Photo of Steven Wilson from jonklinger's flickrstream]

Porcupine Tree is a British progressive rock band with metal influences. In my opinion, they are the best current progressive rock band, and among the best rock bands I know in terms of musical skills. Their songs are complex, interesting, and varied. They usually combine loud and quieter sections, original rhythms, various solo sections featuring the outstanding musicianship of each member, and thought-provoking lyrics.

This concert was held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, in a large, airconditioned venue. I find it hard to estimate numbers, but it seemed to me that there were between 2,000 and 3,500 people there. I have been unable to find any report of audience numbers online. That makes this quite a large concert for a band that is not quite mainstream, and shows the band's lasting popularity in Israel. The audience seemed to be 60-65% male (which seems normal for rock concert audiences, judging by videos I have seen), and probably about 60-65% aged under 30, though there were several older people and a few pre-adolescents.

There was a long wait outside before the audience was allowed in, and the female ticket holders were asked to stand in a separate queue so their bags could be checked by female security guards. I have never seen this done anywhere else, and wonder where this idea came from.

The acoustics and sound balance were probably not perfect, but sounded good enough to me. I don't have enough experience to say if another local venue would have been preferable in any way, and the airconditioning  helped make it more bearable on a humid summer's night than an outdoor concert would have been. Unfortunately, people were smoking, and this is the first time in years I have been exposed to so much smoking, which I hate, but it was to be expected.

The supporting act was an Israeli band called Eatliz. I hadn't heard of them before, as I'm not really interested in Israeli music, I don't really like female vocalists, and so I can't say their music was to my taste. Some members of the audience appreciated them, but I got the impression most were impatient for the "real" concert to begin (especially after the long delay in getting into the venue). Supporting acts are always in a difficult position, playing for an audience that is waiting for someone else to come on stage. Also, the sound during their show was quite bad, for some reason.

It is ten years since Porcupine Tree's last concert here, and accordingly they played not just songs from their latest album, The Incident, but also many songs from previous albums. I was easy to please regarding the choice of songs, since I like all the albums. I was happy to hear one of my favourite songs, Dark Matter, and didn't mind that some other favourites were not included. In general, the songs selected seemed well suited to live performance. Of course, there will always be some people who either have clear preferences among the songs and albums, or perhaps don't know all the material, and they are more difficult to please.

The band's leader, Steven Wilson, is known as a great friend of Israel, having lived in Tel Aviv on and off over the past few years. I have heard this originally started with an Israeli girlfriend, but that he continued to spend time in Israel even after this relationship ended. He started the show speaking in Hebrew, which impressed everyone. As you can imagine, Israelis are particularly sensitive to the way foreigners treat them, especially after so many artists either refuse to perform here or cancel shows at the last minute. So Wilson's attitude earned him and the band great respect.

Apparently, drummer Gavin Harrison didn't really want to perform here, as he supports the Palestinians. Of course, he is entitled to his opinions, and I really respect him for performing here with the band despite his personal objections. He is an outstanding drummer and gave a great performance. I don't think the audience held his opinions against him.

I am not a fannish person. In the two main fields of art I consume, music and literature, I have a tendency to collect all the disks/books of artists/writers I enjoy, but I don't feel the need to publicize my support by buying posters or t-shirts, and I don't need signed copies. For me, it's all about my personal reaction to what I hear/read, and it's a private thing that happens in my head.

So, I was wondering why I felt the need to attend the live concert. First, in practical terms, I know that nowadays bands obtain most of their revenue from live performances rather than from selling recorded music. It is said that in the past bands toured to promote their albums, while today they release tracks to support their concerts. This is one reason why I wanted to attend, to pay back the creators of the music I enjoy. I believe in rewarding artists I appreciate. Secondly, since there are so few concerts in Israel by groups I want to hear, the moment I heard my favourite rock band was coming here I knew I had to go. I bought the tickets at the end of March, when they first went on sale. I felt quite confident the concert wouldn't be cancelled, and I'm so happy it wasn't.

As I mentioned earlier, I haven't attended many rock concerts in my life, and I don't go out dancing. So before the concert started, I was standing around wondering why I was waiting among a loud, sweaty, and smoking crowd of strangers just to hear music that I can listen to whenever I want. As soon as the concert started, I began to realize why. The experience of live music is so different to recorded music. First, there is something magical about seeing the creators of music I love in person, making music and talking to the audience. It felt slightly more personal than just listening to recordings. Second, the live versions of the songs included some solos that are not in the albums. Third, the light show and the video art were very impressive.

For me, it was an other-worldly experience. I was in a large crowd, but felt completely alone and uninhibited in dancing and singing (badly) along with the songs. I was aware that every audience member was experiencing the music differently, and I just went with my instinctive reaction to the music, based on my feelings about the songs. I was able to forget about externals like how I would appear to others, and just make the direct connection between the music I was hearing and my expression of my response to it. I felt at home.

Thank you, Porcupine Tree: Steven Wilson, Gavin Harrison, Richard Barbieri, John Wesley, and Colin Edwin! You have made thousands of Israelis very happy.

(Also, thanks to the music shop manager who first thought I might like Porcupine Tree a few years ago - I did, and he benefitted from his successful recommendation when I bought all their albums in the space of a few weeks!)

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