Posted by: Kate | September 27, 2010

Porcupine Tree, Radio City Music Hall

I kind of feel obligated to write an actual review of the concert, one that doesn’t include overmuch attention to my health and related exploits, because I already know that I’ll get some hits from people running the precise search terms listed in the title. So, OK, fine. Let’s pretend that I’m just some girl going out to shows with her husband, who happened to buy tickets to this obscure British progressive rock band for a one-night-only show in New York City.

The venue, first of all, was Radio City Music Hall. That deserves some attention all by itself. Carefully maintained and kept in an impressive balance of modern amenities and restored original details (there were girls taking pictures in the bathrooms, and I’ll admit to a certain impulse to do the same… I was only able to restrain myself due to my vast maturity and worldly experience… right? And I did take photos in the lobby.), it’s just breathtaking to just be inside, really. The website bills it as “the largest indoor theatre in the world,” and I can’t argue with that from my own experience. The seats are enormous, there’s enough leg-room that you don’t need to get up to let the guy down the aisle out for the fifth time, and you’d have to try very hard, and probably be physically compromised in some way, to get a bad seat. Willem went on stubhub.com and found us front-row second-balcony seats, which meant a perfect, unobscured view and enough distance that my eardrums survived the show relatively intact.

So, the show was primed to be a good one before we ever walked in the doors, simply because the doors were pretty amazing all by themselves. But the band decided to put on a performance worthy of its surroundings, I must admit… I walked in being fairly familiar with a dozen or so of their songs, liked them well enough, whatever. I walked out a fan.

Their very first appearance was a unique little trick that I hadn’t seen before: Porcupine Tree decided to feature an unannounced opening act… themselves. They performed a little acoustic set, five songs, and not all of them were the typical “sounds like the album version but a little slower.”

Then they took a break and came back to play the rest of the show non-acoustically (is there a better term for that?), and quite well. It was a long set – three hours, all told – with a good range of new and old. Which is to say, I recognized about half of what they played, and Willem knew all of the songs but one, I think. The nice thing is, when the band plays songs that are 10-plus minutes long, you have enough time to learn the riffs and chorus by the end of it… handy, don’t you think?

They did a fair amount of playing along to videos on the big screen behind them, which for me was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, that provided an extra dimension to the experience: another sense added in. I don’t typically come up with videos to match the music I’m listening to, so I like it when a band makes the effort to provide me with a visual aid to their thought process. There were several times when I found myself just completely engrossed in the imagery, and once Willem turned to me and said, “Now I know what that song is about!” So, I liked the videos. On the other hand, though, a lot of their more recent songs carry messages about the passivity and mindless consumption of media that seems so common among the current population of the modern world… so, providing us with videos just sort of furthered that exact tendency among the crowd, I think. Plus, one of my very favorite things about live performances – and a reason that I’m sad I was too ill to be there in person for the first hour of the show – is that the artists have the chance to do something completely new and different with their own work. Speed up a slow song, slow down a fast one, throw a completely different beat or sound in, whatever. The band did that with their acoustic set, so that’s lovely, but once they’re playing to match up with a video, they have to make sure that the beat remains just-so, to be the same every time and synch up with the visuals. It ends up giving a sense that you could be there, live, at a show, or maybe you could just stay home and play the album really, really loud and get pretty much the same effect.

Thus the videos were a plus/minus sort of thing for me, but overall I liked having them more than I would have preferred them to disappear.

Otherwise, I can’t come up with any substantial, or really even minor, complaints. The sound quality – both the acoustics of the theater and the musicality of the band – were excellent. I do think it was painfully loud at times, but remember that I had spent the 16 or so hours leading up to the show being spectacularly and impressively ill. My inner ears might well have just been oversensitive and prone to vertigo, by that point. The seats were comfortable and we had a fantastic view. I had to spend the last two songs in the hallway outside, because my stamina and tolerance for noise was just not great, but even from the hallway they sounded good.

So… an excellent show. Really. On all levels. My husband – the true fan of the band – agreed, and if his air-drums and air-guitar and air-bass and orchestra-conductor-waving and singing were any indication, he was able to relax and really soak in the experience, especially once he knew his wife was there and safe and not shivering miserably in a hotel bathroom somewhere. The stream of humanity exiting the venue threw superlatives left and right, and when it was all done I was frankly shocked to have had such a big, full experience for such a moderate ticket price (I think we paid about $60-70 per seat).

Oh! Wait! I do have one regret, shared by some others posting on various online sources: they didn’t make enough t-shirts. Willem very much wanted one of the “September 24 – Radio City Music Hall” shirts, and planned to buy one on his way out. Sadly, I didn’t head down to a kiosk during those last few songs when I was in the hallway, although from the looks of things I might have already been too late by then: but certainly, by the end of the show, those shirts had sold out. If anyone out there has connections and could hook us up with a couple of XXL shirts (to allow Willem’s to shrink in the wash, and to give me a comfortable nightshirt), I would be ever so grateful.

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Responses

  1. I accept the challenge. lets see if my ticket-fu becomes tshirt-fu.

  2. Great review! I also enjoyed the show as a relative neophyte, but I liked the second half much more than the first–seeing the videos on such a huge screen behind the band was overwhelming (in a good way) and unlike anything I’ve seen at a concert before! Now it’s time for me to get to know all their stuff I haven’t heard!

  3. Hi,

    I found your blog while looking for Tshirts from the Radio City Gig. And with that I wanted to say that you shouldn’t feel too badly about not being able to find an RCMH shirt close to the end of the show. They were all gone at the end of the acoustic set.

    Myself, I was wishing that I had skipped the trip to the pub beforehand. Maybe I’d have a shirt now.

    I agree with the rest of your review – great show.

    RCMH is a fantastic venue from a different era… my first memory of the place was the x-mas show in 1969.. I was 2 years old.

    Peace, and Rock-on.
    Joe B


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