When I first discovered Porcupine Tree’s music and became a fan during the late-2010s, I assumed that I’d missed my chance to see them perform live.
The band had been inactive since concluding their world tour for The Incident (2009) in 2010, and frontman Steven Wilson’s public comments in the ensuing few years seemed to indicate a permanent hiatus–until early 2021, that is, when he commented that the band may reform when fans least expect it.
True to his word, a new album entitled Closure/Continuation was announced in October 2021 with minimal advance publicity. It turned out that the band had been secretly developing new material as early as 2012, with the final songs completed during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Following the release of Closure/Continuation in the Summer of 2022, the band embarked on a three-month tour to support the album. Between August and November 2022, they played 25 shows across cities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Europe. I was fortunate enough to attend their nearly three-hour show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City that September, where they expertly performed all seven new songs from Closure/Continuation as well as a myriad of selections from past works.
In order to best document the reunion tour, the band’s November 7 performance at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam was recorded and filmed for a Blu-Ray release. This was one of the biggest shows Porcupine Tree ever played, to an audience of nearly 12,000 fans. As Wilson humorously reminds the audience during the show, the band had recorded one of their last live albums (2008’s Anesthetize) in the Netherlands as well–during the tour for 2007’s Fear Of A Blank Planet.
The Amsterdam setlist is almost identical to that of the New York show, save for the addition of “I Drive The Hearse” from 2009’s The Incident. This not only includes fan-favorites such as “Trains” from 2002’s In Absentia and the 17-minute epic “Anesthetize” from 2007’s Fear Of A Blank Planet, but also deeper cuts such as “Buying New Soul”–recorded during the sessions for 2000’s Lightbulb Sun, but left off the album–and In Absentia’s closing track “Collapse The Light Into Earth” (which had never been performed live before this tour).
Closure/Continuation Live is available in a variety of physical formats, including a 4LP box set, 2CD/2Blu-Ray Deluxe Edition, and a more-economical DVD/Blu-Ray edition. The Blu-Ray disc contains a Dolby Atmos mix as well as a 96-khz/24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 mix, though the Atmos mix is also available to stream on Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music.
Though nearly every DVD or Blu-Ray concert video out there includes a 5.1 surround mix, immersive audio enthusiasts are often disappointed to find that these recordings make minimal use of the rear speakers. It’s been my experience that the vast majority of immersive concerts are mixed to approximate a “spectator” perspective, with the rears utilized primarily for “back-of-the-hall” ambience.
Fortunately, Steven Wilson is one the few mixers to eschew that approach for a bolder “listener-in-the center-of-the-band” effect with instruments and vocals isolated in the rear speakers. He’s responsible for the some of the best-sounding and most immersive live recordings in my collection–such as Steve Hackett’s Spectral Mornings & Selling England: Live At Hammersmith and his own Home Invasion: Live At The Royal Albert Hall–and this new release offers an equally impressive audio-visual experience.
Even in traditional two-channel stereo, the audio mix is definitely not one for the purists. It interestingly downplays the crowd noise and venue ambience, so you can really pick out all the individual musicians’ contributions. While I immensely enjoy the clarity (it almost sounds like a studio recording at times), the more-intimate soundstage does sometimes clash with the wider shots in the video showing the scope of the venue.
The 5.1 surround mix wraps the band around the listening space, with Harrison’s drum kit and Wilson’s lead vocals taking up the bulk of the front soundstage. Randy McStine is standing on the left side of the stage, so his guitar and harmony vocals extend across the left speakers (front left and rear left) while Wilson’s guitar takes up the right side. The rear speakers primarily feature Richard Barbieri’s keyboard and synth effects, along with some cool vocal delays and a handful of pre-recorded elements (like the synth percussion in "Walk The Plank").
The Dolby Atmos mix takes the immersion even further with the addition of the rear surround and four overhead speakers. Barbieri’s solos in “Harridan” alternate between the heights and rear surrounds, while the creepy voiceover from Heaven’s Gate cult leader Marshall Applewhite at the end of “Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled” pops up mostly in the front heights.
Though Wilson, Harrison, and Barbieri are all operating in peak form, I have to say that the biggest highlight of this performance may be the touring members: Nate Navarro on bass and Randy McStine on lead guitar & backing vocals. One of the best moments in the concert would have to be McStine’s extended solo at the end of “I Drive The Hearse,” and he also enhances “Rats Return” with a cool funky rhythm guitar part during the second verse.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Closure/Continuation and past Porcupine Tree records is the increased prominence of the bass guitar, with Steven Wilson himself contributing those parts rather than longtime bassist Colin Edwin. In fact, the opening track “Harridan” is constructed almost entirely around the bassline and Gavin Harrison’s complex rhythms.
I couldn’t really make out Nate Navarro’s playing from the upper balcony at the Radio City show, so it’s something of a revelation to finally hear how he well he played the intro to “Harridan,” solo in “Dignity,” and other signature passages from the new record–like when the bass comes thundering in midway through “Chimera’s Wreck,” one of my favorite parts of that great song.
Overall, Closure/Continuation Live is a great listen for seasoned fans and newcomers to Porcupine Tree alike. The setlist perfectly encapsulates the band’s rich legacy, and the immersive mixes are among the most impressive I’ve heard of a live recording. If this was indeed the band’s final tour, it’s a worthy send-off.
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