This is an over two-hour concert film of Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning tour recorded in Mexico City earlier this year. This set includes the BluRay disc, the duplicate on DVD and 2 CDs of the entire concert as well. There is not much in the way of extras – a picture gallery and a travel film with additional “sound track” music by the band. But let’s be clear – this is an awesome musical and visual set that should not be missed if you are a fan of Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson or simply a fan of great music and fantastic playing. The band basically covers his Grace solo outing, plus some other tracks including a new one. To my eyes and ears, this is one of the finest concert films I have ever seen.

The stunning film clips, lighting and stage production are by Lasse Hoile, who has worked with Steven many times in the past, including most of his videos. Still photos, film edits and other visuals are constantly shown on a back screen that is made of semi-transparent gauze. At times it seems the musicians are being seen through an otherworldly mist, depending on the tempo and mood of the piece being played. The lighting is sometimes forceful and dramatic especially during some of the percussion interludes, and at other times soft and gentle. The film was created using many cameras handled by an expert Mexican film crew so that all of the musicians were captured in logical sequences and you are placed at times on the stage with the musicians and at other times in the audience to great effect.

Steven Wilson is the conductor here, besides playing guitar and keys. His hand movements, his stage roaming and his overall “busyness” act as a focal point to the music being played. It is interesting that he started out as a reluctant front man with Porcupine Tree, but he has embraced his lead role wholeheartedly as displayed during this tour. He has assembled one heck of a great band here: Marco Minneman (Eddie Jobson, The Aristocrats) on drums; Adam Holzman (Miles Davis) on keyboards; Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo, Steve Hackett) on bass and stick; Niko Tsonev (session work) on guitar; and Theo Travis (Robert Fripp, Porcupine Tree, The Tangent) on sax, flute and keys. And they are so tuned to Steven and his music that it is a pleasure to watch them work through the compositions.

Marco Minneman is one of the world’s finest drummers – Steven said in an interview that much of the live show centered on him, and that is obvious. He is the heart and pulsating engine of the concert. Adam Holzman is a ridiculous keyboardist, with some runs that make your jaw drop. Nick Beggs is a solid bass player, definitely in the Tony Levin camp, especially on the stick and he also provides the backing and harmony vocals. Niko Tsonev, a Bulgarian working out of London, England, is a guitarist’s guitarist. At times he has the same approach as Alan Holdsworth, at times Robert Fripp, and at other times he reminds me of Reeve Gabrels (David Bowie’s Tin Machine). In other words, he is up there! Theo Travis truly shines throughout all the pieces as well – his flute and saxes aren’t just for the occasional fill, but create entire soundscapes during many of the instrumental passages.

If you know Steven’s solo work, then you know the songs, but what makes this set so incredible is the freedom that the musicians have to expand on the originals and really spread out. Over the course of the concert there are jazzy melodies, dark and swelling walls of sound, metal chords, acoustic beauty and everything in between. At times I can hear Caravan, King Crimson, Opeth, Return to Forever and of course Porcupine Tree. And the sequences are so well put together that nowhere during the show does “sameness” become a problem. Steven also plays some wonderful guitar as well, indicating to me how underrated a guitarist he is.

To give you an idea of how powerful the set is, it begins with Marco alone at centre stage on his kit as he begins a complicated drumbeat. Then Nick Beggs walks on and takes up the bass, now playing his part in counterpoint with Marco’s drums. And the other musicians in turn proceed to their spots, each in turn contributing amazing solo work in the midst of the basic melody that keeps expanding. Steven Wilson then comes on the stage and off they go!

The show ends with the sequence in reverse, a very dramatic ending to a major concert release. There is an encore of course!

The audience is quite respectful throughout the concert, and is basically mostly unnoticeable when the band is playing, even during the quieter pieces. So crowd noise is at a minimum, loud audience noise being a personal gripe of mine on concert recordings. The sound for all the discs in the set have been mixed by Steven Wilson, so you know the audio is impeccable as always. The CDs, by the way, have excellent sound too, but I have to admit that the sound on the BluRay is so powerful that it was a little bit of a letdown to hear it on CD.

I would highly recommend this incredible concert. If you were not familiar with Steven Wilson or his work with Porcupine Tree or No-man, then this would be an excellent way to hear and “see” the music of one of the most influential artists of the past two decades.

Release Date: September 25, 2012

–Bob Metcalf