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Steven Wilson at Theatre St-Denis

John Kelman By

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Steven Wilson
Théâtre St-Denis
Montréal, Canada
March 2, 2016

Perhaps one of the biggest signs of multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson's continued upward trajectory is this: less than nine months after selling out two nights at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2015, he brought his top- drawer band back to Montreal for another packed-to-the-rafters show, this time at Théâtre St-Denis, where Crimson delivered two stunning nights last November. Beyond the fact that, despite issuing an EP-length, in-between album called 4 1/2 (Kscope, 2016) and a vinyl-only compilation, Transience (Kscope, 2015) of some of his more accessible material, Wilson is still primarily touring Hand. Cannot. Erase. (Kscope, 2015), his fourth full-length studio album since going solo in 2009 with Insurgentes (Kscope).

If Wilson's past couple of tours were the beginning of his reclamation of material written and performed when he was a member of Porcupine Tree—the group that really began as a solo project for a much younger Wilson (who had already begun playing with singer Tim Bowness in No-Man) but, with its almost immediate success and attention, demanded the formation of a proper band for touring and, therefore, the start down the road towards something that, while still primarily led by Wilson, was more democratic in nature—his 2016 tour has begun to bring back far more Porcupine Tree material than ever before.

For the first time, Wilson's divided his show into two sets, complete with intermission. For his first set, he delivered a complete, front-to-back performance of Hand. Cannot. Erase—a change from his 2015 tour, where the album was played in bits and pieces, with other material from his solo career mixed in. For his second set Wilson covered three pieces from 4 1/2, a tribute to David Bowie with a lovely version of the recently deceased singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist's "Space Oddity," and a full five Porcupine Tree songs—though one, "Don't Hate Me," was revisited in a new but relatively faithful version on 4 1/2—plus one song each from his first three solo albums: Insurgentes's schizophrenic but still radio-friendly "Harmony Korine"; the re-imagined, more hardcore version of "Index," from 2011's Grace for Drowning (Kscope), that Wilson first introduced during his 2015 tour; and the haunting, evocative title track to 2013's The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories (Kscope).

Earlier, during the afternoon before the performance, longtime keyboardist Adam Holzman sat down for coffee, a hang and a short interview. Now in his fifth year with Wilson, Holzman has surpassed the "four years to a day" tenure he held with Miles Davis during the late trumpeter's final years in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Holzman—now on the south side of his 50s but with the demeanor of a much younger man—has been on the scene for decades, largely in the jazz and fusion/funk sphere where, in addition to his own solo projects, he has collaborated with everyone from pianist Michel Petrucciani, the Mahavishnu Project and trumpeter Wallace Roney to singer Chaka Khan, saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and vibraphonist Mike Mainieri's Steps Ahead. He's also been working with his wife, guitarist Jane Getter, playing on and producing all four of her albums commencing with the more fusion/funk-centric Jane (Alex Merck Music, 1998) and culminating in her gradual move towards more progressive music with her new band, Premonition on its 2016 debut, ON (Madfish, 2016)—a subsidiary label to Wilson's, Kscope. During a relatively short break in Wilson's schedule, Holzman managed to hit the road with Getter for short tours of the US and Europe.

"When I first met Jane she was practically still in the wake of Brother Jack McDuff, so she was 'Miss Straight-ahead,'" says Holzman. "She gradually came to jazz rock and fusion, but it's been over the last 10 years that she's gone more and more towards metal; we listen to all this music in the car and she's gone much more into the heavy stuff than I have. It's very guitar-oriented; she wants to play, so she has also been looking for a context where she can reach more people and have more success while still being able to play. That's where progressive rock is really a logical step...if it isn't done in a cheesy way.

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