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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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Tour Blog Part 25 : Mr. Small's Funhouse, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia

Mr. Small's Funhouse, Pittsburgh

Day off. Hurrah. After a relaxing day of rest, emails, a shower and general catching up on stuff, I wanted to go out to get something to eat. There had been some emails going around mid afternoon suggesting going out for a meal, but these seemed to stop around 5 pm. I assumed either my email was not working or people had gone off separately and I was not invited. So I leave my room around 7.30pm to wander off all by my lonesome..., and then I bump into Nick in the lift. Turns out he is going to get something to eat on his own. So we wander out together. Great. We find a cafe that looks nice and take a look inside. Hey - there is Harv and Adrian. We ask if they want to eat and Harv does so comes along with us. We find a cool bar that does pizzas and light bites and go in and sit by the window and order. Five minutes later there are 3 more of the guys and some friends standing outside the window on their way to dinner. Adam leaves them and joins our growing party. So it is quite a gathering now. We are sitting at our table by the window and ten minutes later, there is Steven outside wandering down the street on his own. We wave him in pleased to see him. "Hey guys, no one invited me out to dinner! " he says. So I explain that no one asked anyone, and by chance we all met up and he joins us and a good time was had by all.

 I chose the local speciality pizza which was with spicy chicken and peppers and with French fries actually on the pizza. Then we shared some pieces of deep fried cheesecake. I know, it all sounds a bit Glasgow, but it tasted pretty good actually. 

The next day the van picked us up to take us to the venue, Mr Small's which is a converted church. On the way to the venue we saw another converted church, that one converted to a brewery. I have not seen that before. Drink of the devil indeed... 

There was some free time before the soundcheck so a few of us went to an amazing nearby record store called Attic Records. Wow. It was huge and had thousands of vinyl albums, and some really obscure CDs and records and multiple copies of rare records. The helpful proprietor explained there was even more stock in a separate building. I don't think I can ever remember seeing more vinyl in a record store. I was particularly interested in seeing some rare jazz flute albums, but didn't buy anything as I would have to carry it round South America and my baggage weight allowance is already up to the max. 

The gig itself was good. We dropped 'No part of me' and brought back 'Sectarian' which worked well. Sectarian is played mainly behind the gauze and amusingly Steven larked about a bit during it. I think it is great that even though he has so much on his shoulders with the concerts and the organisation of the tour and he is so focused and acutely aware of everything going on onstage, he can still relax and have a bit of a laugh during the gig. 

Before playing 'Harmonie Korine' Steven asked the audience who had seen the extraordinary new film 'Springbreakers' as it was directed by him and is his first mainstream movie. He mentioned the scene in which a Britney Spears song is sung by the James Franco character, and it reminded me of the incredible cover of a Britney Spears song that my friend Andy Tillison introduced me to. It is by the Swedish trio 'Dirty Loops' and I think it is stunning how they have transformed what for me is a very produced computer assembled sounding track that is lifeless and dull, into a fantastic song that totally comes alive when played by this killing young band. It sounds like they are having a ball too. It has to be one of the best cover versions I have heard and in my humble opinion wipes the floor with the original. See what you think. 

At the beginning of the encore we tried an alternative version of 'Luminol' inspired by the band The Shaggs. I am not sure how that went down, but it was fun to do and unusual...Then we played 'Remainder the black dog' and 'No Twilight'. Again I went out to the merchandise table after the gig for photos and to sign autographs as did some of the others. We left for Cleveland after the gig, and at 4 am I got up to go to the bathroom on the bus, and I bumped into Marco, who said the three magic words 'Rooms are ready'. We had actually reached the hotel in Cleveland by 4 am and could check in to our rooms already. Splendid.
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Tour Blog Part 24 : Upstate Concert Hall, Albany, New York

​After another night drive we arrived in Albany, New York for the triple bill with Opeth and Katatonia. I rolled out of the tour bus and into the venue and bumped into Opeth's leader, guitarist and frontman Mikael Akerfeldt. We had not met before but we knew who each other were. Mikael immediately said how much he loves Stevens album 'the Raven that refused to sing', and we both said how much we were looking forward to hearing each other's band live. Seems like a nice guy. 

After much hanging around, we sound checked at about 4pm. We ran the usual couple of songs to check everything was working and for Ian, our front of house sound engineer to fine tune the sound. We take our own mixing desk and cables and microphones on the road with us, but not stage monitors (for those who do not use in ear monitors) or PA system. So everything needs checking but Ian and the crew are extremely good and it is all done quickly and efficiently. 

One thing I have been enjoying recently onstage is the small spinning conch shaped gong that Marco bought in Amsterdam off my friend Steve Hubback which he has incorporated into his drum kit. It has a beautiful and enchanting sound and when it is struck it spins around as does the sound it makes. Marco usually strikes it at certain particular points in the show like at the end of the song 'Index' and the sound always shines through. It always makes me smile. 

The first band on was Katatonia who are a Swedish metal band. I only heard a bit of their set which sounded OK but not particularly for me. We then went onstage at 8 pm. The crowd was packed into the space and there were a lot of people there. With a low ceiling and a packed club you might expect it to be very hot and sweaty onstage, but the air conditioning was so powerful I was actually cold onstage as gusts of Arctic-like wind blew down on my head. It felt rather strange. Our set was shorter than normal because of the triple bill, so we had to lose a few songs. It all went well though and we got a great response. 

After a quick changeover, Opeth came onstage. I have not head their music before, but have been aware of them for years as Steven has produced some of their albums, is a good friend of Mikael and also collaborated with him on the 'Storm Corrosion' project. Their set was very varied and included some very heavy songs with what is called 'death growl' vocals, which sounds to you and me like the Cookie Monster from the Muppets. Actually I have never experienced this live before and it was not as silly sounding as I expected. Some heavy metal has high pitched screaming and that can sound even more ridiculous. The death growling was only on the heaviest of songs and it does kind of work with the music. The following day I even checked out the 'How to death growl' videos on Youtube out of curiosity. Looks like you make a sort of clearing your throat sound, and then speak or sing as low as possible and loud. Hmm...Then there was a track called 'Atonement' which was introduced as their psychedelic song and I thought it did have a '60s psychedelia vibe to it. Then some strong acoustic guitar songs which were still dark and ominous sounding and also a beautiful song from their recent Heritage album. So a huge range and because of that, everything made everything else sound more dramatic and interesting. There was also space in the music and everything was very well played. I saw just about the whole set and was impressed and enjoyed it. 

A friend of Steven's who was hanging out backstage said she was from New Jersey and when I said I had spent some time there and has been to Point Pleasant Beach she told me of the devastation there and along the coast at Seaside Heights from Hurricane Sandy. I remember that beach well and was shocked to see some photos of the destruction caused. 

I had an early- ish night and awoke in Pittsburgh in the rain where we are having a day off in a hotel. Yeah! Random piece of band information for the day...most quoted film this week - 'Withnail and I'.

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Tour Blog Part 23 : New York - Boston

Best Buy Theatre

Before the New York gig I met up with Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune records and manager of Soft Machine Legacy . He brought me some copies of our new album 'Burden of Proof' which I had not seen yet and wanted to have for myself and also to sell on this tour. The music is kind of ' psychedelic free improv' bluesy progressive jazz', so should be of interest to some fans of Steven's band. We went out for coffee and some proper New York cheesecake which was good but pretty rich! Good to catch up on news too. 

The gig itself went well. A big crowd which was actually about 50% bigger than last time. The audience was enthusiastic and speaking to people later they all said they really enjoyed it, but compared to the Montreal audience they were notably quieter. There were some loud heckles too and we even had to restart one song. Adam had lots of friends, family and students at the show and he played particularly well I thought. Afterwards, I saw my friend the singer songwriter and jazz bass player John Lester who moved to New York not long ago, and is about to move back to San Francisco. He made a jazz quartet album in London called 'Jazz?' recently that I featured on with great jazz arrangements of rock songs by artists like the Cure, Tori Amos, the Police, Crowded House and others. 

After the show I started to feel a sore throat coming on. The following morning when I woke up in Boston I felt a bit rough and it did not improve much during the day. I was supposed to meet some good friends for dinner but cancelled as I just needed to chill out and try and feel better for the gig. I did meet up with my sister in law and her children in the afternoon for coffee and that was really nice. She said they live 3 minutes from where the Boston bombers lived and the kids go to school in Watertown, Boston where the bombs went off. Fortunately they are all fine though. 

Sometimes when you feel a bit rough on tour and there is no hotel so you just have to hang around backstage or on the tour bus it can be a bit of a drag. I later heard that Marco did not feel so good during the day either. However when we walked onstage at 8pm, I felt OK. The gig was at the Berklee Performance Centre, which is the concert hall at the Berklee College of music. It is world famous for its jazz course and there are a lot of famous jazz musicians who have attended the college like Branford Marsalis, Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton. Some well known rock musicians too like Mike Portnoy and Steve Vai. So we were very aware that there were going to be lots of musicians in the audience and indeed there were. Maybe it was the contrast with the rest of the day, but for whatever reason it felt fantastic walking onstage. The fun we had been having on the soundcheck on 'Luminol' seemed to be creeping into the gig version, and it sounded totally on fire to me. The audience was really stoked and very enthusiastic. The show itself went very well I thought and for the first part of the encore we did something very unusual and a bit crazy but both amusing and actually pretty musical in a very off the wall way. I won't say any more...Then we played the more usual encore medley of 'Remainder the black dog' into 'No Twilight'. 

Afterwards I went out to sign CDs and programmes etc with Nick and we met and chatted with some fans. One guy had flown all the way from Australia for the gig! 

Tomorrow Albany, New York for a triple bill with Opeth (who I have not seen or heard before but heard lots about) and Katatonia. Apparently Albany is the capital of New York State, not New York City. Seems odd, but maybe it is a way to share out things bit. It will be interesting to see how it works having three bands all setting up, soundchecking and performing on the same bill. Could be interesting (or chaos!).

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Tour Blog Part 22 : Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Club Soda, Montreal
Theo on Soprano Sax

So on gig day we arrived at the venue about 2.30 pm. I set up my instruments, then met up with the great music writer John Kelman and his friend and a few of us went out for coffee, cake and chat which was nice. We came back for the soundcheck and played through 'Luminol' first. There is something that happens when we play that song on the soundcheck after a day off, particularly during the keyboard solo section near the beginning. We all go a bit crazy, let off steam and play with a really powerful energy just enjoying being back on the stage and playing again with this wonderful group of musicians. 

In the dressing room, Steven mentioned that the new album has now sold 8000 copies on vinyl alone. This is obviously a small fraction of total sales, but it is lot of vinyl copies, and would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. Interesting just how much there is a resurgence of interest in vinyl. The gig itself was amazing. The audience was ridiculous (good ridiculous!). We walked onstage to a deafening roar which kept going for quite a while. I looked out and saw half the front row all were wearing black 'Raven' T-shirts. The enthusiasm continued throughout the gig. It was nice to get some applause after my sax solo in the song 'Pindrop'. At the end of the gig after the encore, the audience was so enthusiastic Steven decided to go back on for a second encore. We have not done this before and it was not planned. I think it took the crew by surprise, but with an audience response like that we had to do something. After it was all over I went out to the merchandise stand to sign autographs and where I sold over double the number of copies of my CD 'Follow' than on any other gig to date. Good to meet some fans and Facebook 'friends' too. 

After the gig we headed off back to America. It was going to take an hour to reach the border crossing, so we watched one of the Jeremy Brett episodes of Sherlock Holmes that Adam had brought on DVD called The Dancing Men. Most enjoyable. We reached the border at about 2.45 am and it took an hour to get through everything, so I finally got to bed at 3.45am exhausted. 

I woke up whilst the tour bus was driving into New York. There is something very exciting about driving into Manhattan on a tour bus on the way to a gig there. I remember well driving into New York in 2000 with the band Gong on a converted Greyhound bus listening to a great McCoy Tyner CD 'Infinity' on the way to our gig at the hip venue/club called the Knitting Factory (now no more). As a British jazz musician, gigging in New York is always going to feel really special. We drove through the Bronx and Harlem and down Broadway towards Times Square where we are playing tonight at the Best Buy Theatre.

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Tour Blog Part 21 : Toronto, Ontario

The Phoenix, Toronto

So the day off in Toronto was relaxing and much needed. I felt pretty exhausted by the time I settled into my hotel room. Later on I went for a walk up the Main Street. - Yonge Street. I passed Massey Hall, venue of one of saxophonist Charlie Parker's legendary concerts and recordings and I think various classic live albums. Soaked up a bit of the Toronto vibe and ate a Johnny Rocket's burger and sweet potato fries which were just what the doctor ordered. 

The next day got to the venue, the Phoenix, early. Outside I noticed a black squirrel. Jet black. I have never seen one like that before, but Guthrie told me they were common in some places and are doing to the grey squirrels what the grey squirrels did to the red ones. Marco later mentioned he had seen a family of giant racoons sitting by the load in door. One just stared him in the eye and carried on his business.

Backstage in the dressing room before the gig, DJ Wilson played some cool tracks. 'One of those days in England' from Bullinamingvase by Roy Harper was fabulous and I only half knew it. I know and love his albums 'Stormcock' and 'Flat, Baroque and Beserk' very well, and other individual songs, but not this one. Beautiful. Then Steven introduced Adam and me to some recent Marillion. I have not previously been much impressed by the music of theirs I have heard. However Steven played something from the new album and it did sound good. I was particularly impressed with Steve Hogarth's voice which sounded magnificent.

After the soundcheck Adam told me some more interesting things about Miles Davis' band, and in particular the sax players in the band who were around when he was. I was also fascinated to hear (Adam I hope you don't mind me sharing...), that having heard the album 'Metal Fatigue', Miles wanted Allan Holdsworth in his band, and asked Adam to call him and ask him to join the band. Adam did indeed make that call, and Allan said he was honoured to have been asked, but due to commitments could not do it. Now if he had joined, that would have been interesting to hear! 

The gig was good fun and the crowd loved it. The venue itself is a long narrow room, So the stage space was tight. In fact I was pretty hemmed in in my corner. Normally I walk offstage for the couple of songs I do not play on, but today I just stayed onstage, looking mean and moody! I wonder if people noticed I was there but did not play on entire songs. It was also hot onstage. Inspired by the enthusiasm and hopes of a fan who I heard was driving a long way to the gig and keen for autographs, I arranged for a few of us to go out and sign CDs and programmes after the show at a table by the merchandise stand. The said fan was most pleased and said they would cherish the signatures for ever! 

Overnight we drove to Montreal and when I got up the bus was on a street next to a 'Sexotheque'. I guess that is like a discotheque, but, um...different. There were also some drug addicts in the street, who did not look well at all. The tour bus stopped where the driver had been told to park by the venue manager. Some van delivery driver then came screaming at the driver saying he couldn't park there, and called the police. After more shenanigans we moved and got dropped off at the hotel, before the bus went and parked somewhere else.

It was a nice boutiquey hotel. The only curiosity was the big mirrors in the shower. As in right in the shower. Now why would you want that? 

Adrian Holmes, our excellent merchandise man, and fellow Brummie, had a spare free ticket to see Muse that evening so I said I was up for it. I have not been wild about what I have heard of their CDs, but footage of them live looked amazing so I thought it would be good to go and see the show. In the afternoon, I watched some recent live youtube clips of the band to check out some songs etc. The arena was big - maybe 8,000 people at a guess. The band were indeed stunning. A fantastic arena or stadium band as they completely fill the space and have an incredible light show. The most impressive I have ever seen (image below)

The music is very strong, a bit like Radiohead with an injection of Queen, and the frontman and lead singer, Matt Bellamy was extraordinary and very commanding. The band comes from Teignmouth, a beautiful small town in Devon, England that I know where I have played many times as they have a great jazz festival and regular jazz club too. They were all at school together there. You could probably fit the whole town in most of the venues the band plays at now! Very enjoyable gig and a good night out.

Muse in Toronto
The Steven Wilson team at The Phoenix, Toronto
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