Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted

On September 15th 2009, I got to see Porcupine Tree. Driving down to Seattle to see them perform at the Moore Theatre, it was an incredible experience to see one of my favourite bands play live. Moreover, it was the first time Porcupine Tree had ever played “The Incident” before a live audience, making the experience even more significant. Listening to “Octane Twisted”- Porcupine Tree’s latest live offering- I recall vivid memories of that experience. With that context, and hundreds of listens to “The Incident” now under my belt, this double album was an instant pleasure for me. Now with a fairly extensive catalogue of live recordings, there are few surprises here that fans of Porcupine Tree wouldn’t already expect. That aside, it’s “The Incident” in a live setting, and that’s more than good enough for me.

If you haven’t listened to “The Incident” already, I would humbly suggest you check it out at the nearest convenient time (or horribly inconvenient time, it still might be worth it!). Essentially a fifty-five minute epic split into fourteen parts, it’s an abstract conceptual piece with plenty of atmosphere, self-contained pieces and studiobound beauty that the band is famed for. Talking about the music based on its own merit might end up feeling like a review of “The Incident” rather than for this live record however. Although the second disc draws upon songs throughout Porcupine Tree’s career, the first disc is dedicated solely to their 2009 masterpiece. Something that I recall surprising me was how well Porcupine Tree managed to reproduce the sound of the album in a live space. Barring Steven Wilson’s decidedly rawer vocal approach here, the performance is incredibly similar to the studio release. Even particular sounds, samples and effects have been brought to bear. It may have been nice to hear Porcupine Tree take parts of “The Incident” down new, fresh routes for this live recording, but the fact that the band are able to so beautifully recreate the album live is a testament to their brilliance as a musical act.

The second disc feels less necessary than the first, but the songs are well chosen and the quality of performance is maintained consistently. Absent are the overplayed “Trains” and “Lazarus”, replaced instead by some of Porcupine Tree’s longer, proggier material. “Hatesong” is a brilliant showcase for Gavin Harrison’s precise style of playing, and Edwin’s bass groove is a real crowd pleaser for the live setting. “Russia On Ice” starts off fairly true to form, before diving into an excerpt from the middle of the incredible epic “Anesthetize” (off “Fear of a Blank Planet”). Of course, the highlight of the second disc is “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”, although I could have probably guessed that just by looking at the tracklist. It’s a wonderfully composed and performed tune, and it translates into the live realm perfectly.

The recording is up to par with what one might expect from Porcupine Tree- there’s an attention paid here for the sake of audiophiles, and any listeners using a high-definition sound system. At the heaviest moments of the set however, the mixing seems to rely on the bass a tad much, which tends to drown out some of the details in the performance. For the most part, “Octane Twisted” focuses in on the atmospheric, progressive side of Porcupine Tree, and in this respect, the recording is sublime. I’m not sure that this could compare to the near-perfection the band achieved in studio, but for the sake alone that it gives a slightly new light to “The Incident”, it’s worth a listen. It’s a solid live album, and though Porcupine Tree will always be best heard in their studio form, “Octane Twisted” goes to show how meticulous they are as a live performing act.

Tracklist:

CD 1 – The Incident – Chicago
1. Occam’s Razor
2. The Blind House
3. Great Expectations
4. Kneel And Disconnect
5. Drawing The Line
6. The Incident
7. Your Unpleasant Family
8. The Yellow Windows Of The Evening Train
9. Time Flies
10. Degree Zero Of Liberty
11. Octane Twisted
12. The Seance
13. Circle Of Manias
14. I Drive The Hearse

CD2
1. Hatesong (9.57)
2. Russia On Ice / The Pills I’m Taking (15.02)
3. Stars Die (5.57)
4. Bonnie The Cat (6.11)
5. Even Less (14.28)
6. Dislocated Day (7.05)
7. Arriving Somewhere But Not Here (12:59)

DVD – The Incident – Chicago (On Special Edition only)
1. Occam’s Razor
2. The Blind House
3. Great Expectations
4. Kneel And Disconnect
5. Drawing The Line
6. The Incident
7. Your Unpleasant Family
8. The Yellow Windows Of The Evening Train
9. Time Flies
10. Degree Zero Of Liberty
11. Octane Twisted
12. The Seance
13. Circle Of Manias
14. I Drive The Hearse

Line-up:

* Steven Wilson – vocals, guitar, piano
* Richard Barbieri – keyboards, synthesizer
* Colin Edwin – bass guitar
* Gavin Harrison – drums

With:
* John Wesley – vocals, guitar

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