Monday, February 22, 2010

DVD Review: Porcupine Tree's Arriving Somewhere... (2006)

There's a new Porcupine Tree DVD/Blu Ray in the works. Since it won't be out for a while I decided to dig out PTree's first and only other concert DVD to date. Filmed during the Deadwing tour of 2005 (wow, 'Time Flies' indeed) it shows the band at the peak of their abilities. While you can find plenty of reviews elsewhere focussing on content of the disc, I'm going to do things a bit differently and focus on the production values. I really appreciate Steven Wilson's style and taste in surround sound mixing, and his work on his first concert DVD does not disappoint. The direction of album art designer Lasse Hoile is first-rate and the editing is artsy yet tasteful. The package is also loaded with an extra disc of bonuses that give you plenty of value for the reasonable price of the disc.

The best thing about this disc, and with pretty much anything Mr. Wilson has done in the last five years or so, is the audio mix. I've reviewed many of his DVD-Audio mixes already, and it's safe to say that the guy has proven himself to be the master of multi-channel rock mixes. This DVD-Video is no exception. The DTS 5.1 mix is demo quality and great to show off your surround system to friends (or enemies). There are a few different approaches one can take when it comes to doing a surround mix for a concert video. Most often, one might try to create the ambiance of sitting in the venue, with the band and music in front and the audience behind. Mr. Wilson prefers the more adventurous route. For the opening ambient introduction Revenant you are instantly surround with music. The rears often feature instrumental solos and keyboard pads. It's an engrossing experience that recalls some of efforts 70s Prog bands took to surround the audience with music.

The highlight musically speaker would personally have to be the back to back epic punch of Hatesong and Don't Hate Me. Gavin Harrison has established himself as the king of modern drummers, and you will not miss a single cymbal tap thanks to Wilson's perfect mix. In another highlight, Wilson's guitar in Hatesong swirls around the room as he screeches and soars on some of his most atonally ambitious solos. Buying New Soul is always an emotional high point of any Porcupine Tree concert, and the performance on this DVD doesn't disappoint. Heartattack in a Layby features the vocal harmonies emerging from every corner of the room. It's a beautiful moment. The concert comes to an end with Trains. Always a fan favorite, it features the only error musically on the whole disc. Steve gets a bit too excited for the big chords of the song's mid-section and breaks a string on his guitar. "We were all doing so well..." he says in a funny moment that probably has already gone down in PT folklore. He gets a backup from his roadie and continues playing to a rousing conclusion.

Lasse Hoile's editing has been the subject of some criticism. The DVD is ripe with digitally added effects that include artificial film grain and colour adjustments. While normally overloading a concert video with special effects is not a good idea (see Yes' Keys To Ascension), I feel it all works pretty well here. The pace is quick, and there are plenty of cuts, but it all seems to work because it always compliments the music. Cutting to Gavin Harrison for a split second might be a silly idea until your realize you get to see one of his massive fills before the focus switches back to Wilson's solo. You never at any point feel that the cuts are made just for the sake of it, and it always goes with the music perfectly. Any music fan knows how irritating it is when the focus is on the keyboardist when the guitarist is soloing. That never happens here. If I have one complaint it would be that, while all the artificial film grain compliments the music visually, it often gets caught up in the MPEG2 compression of the DVD and ends up looking blocky. This is a very small detail that I'm sure most viewers won't even notice. The next PTree concert video will be released on Blu Ray, which will probably not suffer from this.

This DVD is a must for any fan of Porcupine Tree, period. Even if you don't have a fancy TV or surround sound system, you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of performances. The disc does a great job of capturing the feel of a PT concert perfectly. Every member is in top form, and any fan of drumming will be completely floored by the skill of Gavin Harrison. His original composition Cymbal Song is featured on the bonus disc and is a great showcase for the guy's originality and creativity with cymbals of all sorts. The bonus disc also features complete footage of the on-stage projected films used during the concert. It's a great classic performance that will surely keep you entertained until the new DVD comes out in a month or two.

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