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Steven Wilson @ The Vic, May 1st, 2018

Though multi-instrumentalist and studio wizard Steven Wilson has classically been known to visit the great city of Chicago in the past, things have been different for me. I have been known to absentmindedly miss shows or wait just a little too long before pulling the trigger on pre-ordering a ticket. Thus defines my fifteen year relationship with Steven Wilson-related concerts, never quite making into the audience. You could say there was a lot riding on this — the emotional weight of Wilson’s music has never been something called into question, but experiencing it in person for the first time was daunting, holding its immense weight over my head since the tour was first announced late last year.

An unexpectedly seated affair, with rows of fold-up chairs leading up to the stage, the Vic was hushed, but frustratedly restrained. Steven Wilson was to play two sets, and for all his stage banter of “rock and roll being suppressed” in the United States, it seemed odd to sit down (It wasn’t until he invited the audience to stand for his “pop song” — “Permanating” — in the second set that there was a little more “rock show” energy). Seating did evoke a classy, refined atmosphere, fine. Little actions like this are more along the lines of Wilson’s purposeful jettisoning from external music expectation and classification in search of solidifying his own identity. Every move he made was, in hindsight, a symbol of that effort, calculated in a deservedly self-ingratiating manner. All the bizarre hand motions, the ranting stage banter, the accepting of his new, younger fans — Steven Wilson has transcended emulating his own influences and is comfortable in his own artistic skin.

Featuring a wide variety of music from his solo career and our dearly departed Porcupine Tree, this particular show carried a great sense of rediscovery and zen-like self-awareness. Placing new, more pop-defined songs from 2017’s To The Bone with unexpected deep cuts like the balladic “Heartattack in a Layby” and “.3″‘s hypnotic trip-hop, or even extended jams which date back much further, Wilson’s sense of calm, reflective ownership of a near three decade career imbued even the most unexpected addition to these two lengthy sets with a youthful passion.

It was balanced, the set lists themselves possessing a carefully curated character to showcase both the songwriting backbone of a long career with the more recent bouts into extreme musicianship. Wilson is a special, rare breed, someone whose career will obviously live far beyond him — certainly a goal of his, given a particularly long rant about his thoughts on his music not being pop, prog, or rock, but “Steven Wilson Music.” However egotistical a thought like that may be, there is a validity to it. At this point in time, there is nothing else like Steven Wilson Music. May it live on.

As far as my own experience? It was emotional. Fifteen years of build-up and personal frustration all culminate in what could very well be a perfect performance. Wilson and his band more than capably shift between the many different parts which define Wilson’s career and musical personality. There was an immense catharsis hearing all these songs which have stuck with me all these years, and it all just kind of… came out. Music-related memories are incredibly strong, sometimes you can’t help but revel in whatever you feel. It was worth it.

To The Bone is out now on Caroline Records.

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