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British band Porcupine Tree is sharp in prog-rock update

June 13, 2005|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

Pink Floyd would be proud of Porcupine Tree. The English band has done an admirable job assimilating the Floydian lexicon of spaced-out sonics, dread and alienation.

But like Radiohead, Tool and the Mars Volta, the group strives to update the prog-rock aesthetic through the addition of edgier idioms. In the case of Porcupine Tree, which headlined the Wilshire Theatre on Friday, it's a guitar-fueled intensity that borders on heavy metal.

The results are radical enough to give the group indie-rock credibility while retaining a bombast that would satisfy even the most rabid Rush geek.

The quintet's current album, "Deadwing," is a concept piece based on a cerebral ghost story that singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Wilson hopes to turn into a film. Judging by the awful quality of the image projected on a video screen throughout Friday's show, this may not be such a good idea.

Musically, Porcupine Tree shined whenever the material managed to transcend neo-prog cliches.

"Halo" was dazzling in its ability to deliver dark variations of the same melancholy motif, and the 2002 anthem "Blackest Eyes" sounded hummable and sensuous.

Fans of British new wave will remember keyboardist Richard Barbieri from his days with David Sylvian's group Japan. Barbieri's approach was subtle and understated, his long, sustained notes adding an air of glacial elegance to Porcupine's hyper-kinetic workouts.

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