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Porcupine Tree live in our living room

09 Nov 2007 / in music and gigs

The band Porcupine Tree have been around for 20 years now, but you may never have heard of them. They are not mainstream and they certainly don’t have ‘hits’. I hadn’t heard of them until a couple of years ago when a friend gave me a copy of their 1995 album The Sky Moves Sideways saying “this is Jane music, try it” and it most certainly was! Its big energetic melodies with a hypnotic ambience fused with proggie rockiness immediately entranced me.

And I’m obviously not the only one, for their gig at Oxford’s new venue, the Carling Academy (formerly The Zodiac) was sold out.

I didn’t like the main, new downstairs auditorium at all – long and thin – so if you were one of the majority of the audience five metres or more away from the stage, you couldn’t see a damned thing. And worse still, because the ceiling is low, the sound has nowhere to go. So standing at the back, you had to rely on small TV screens suspended from the ceiling to see much at all and the sound from here was deadened and not loud enough by a long way. Not a good start.

So on came the band. Fantastic!

They played their distinctive soundscapes of progressive rock, veering from psychedelic to Brit pop, to strongly Pink Floyd influenced, especially I thought in the way they do chord resolves at the end of phrases. Moth thought this was quite Genesissy. Like any good prog rock band, they understand the need for contrast and tone in their work, and that doesn’t just mean they do quiet bits and then loud bits. It’s more subtle and delicious than that. The music changes pace, but loses none of its energy and throughout everything, beautiful rolling melodies.

So it’s no surprise to me that this month Porcupine Tree won ‘best album of the year’ at the Classic Rock awards for their most recent work ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’.

Live, Porcupine Tree are not massively visual or charismatic, I didn’t feel they drew the audience in – though standing this far back, a band would have to weave extraordinary magic to do so. But despite the low sound levels, Porcupine Tree sounded wonderful.

I was pretty pissed off with the venue by this time, so we went to stand in the bar area where there was a big screen and another PA, so we could at least see something, even if it was second-hand views, and hear what we’d come to hear. We even found a place to sit. We thought about going home as the venue made it impossible for us to enjoy it, but every time we said ‘we’ll leave at the end of the next song’ the beautiful music made us stay.

Finally after about an hour we did leave and went home. We put on a Porcupine Tree Live DVD (recorded from German TV’s Rockpalast show) made ourselves a cuppa, each lit a cigar and enjoyed the wonderful music from the best venue in the world – our living room.

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