Blackfield is one of the best things that ever happened to British rocker Steven Wilson and Israeli bad boy Aviv Geffen. The band, which launched a brief six-show European tour on Sunday night with an under-the-radar performance in Israel (not even listed on the band’s main website), is a collaboration between the two accomplished singer-songwriters which allows Wilson to write the kind of catchy pop songs that are outside the purview of his main gig, the head banging metal/ progressive Porcupine Tree; and it gives Geffen an opportunity to reach a wider audience by singing in English while piggybacking on the Porcupine Tree’s legion of leather-coated fans.
Blackfield’s Sunday concert was also a farewell of sorts: Wilson announced just days before the show that he was leaving the band, which will continue, he said, under Geffen’s exclusive tutelage. That’s a shame, because what made Blackfield so special was the way the two experienced front men play off each other. Their 3-minute verse-chorus-verse pop songs are more tightly crafted than the tunes they (and Geffen in particular) create separately; Wilson’s soaring progressive licks add the occasional, if restrained, ethereal accent; and perhaps most importantly, the lovely two part (and, with the band on stage, often four part) harmonies mask Geffen’s harsh and sometimes grating voice.
Given Wilson’s imminent departure, Sunday’s nearly sold out show was a sort of “greatest hits” swan song to fans, with material drawn mainly, although not exclusively, from the first two of the band’s four albums.
The show opened with “Miss U” from Blackfield II and segued immediately into “Pills,” the first single from Blackfield IV. (Note to band: it wouldn’t hurt to come up with some more creative album names.) Other crowd pleasers included “Glow,” “Hello” and “Summer,” all from Blackfield I, and “Once,” “1,000 People” and “Where is my Love?” from Blackfield II. A surprising standout was the live version of “Oxygen,” which took on an R.E.M.-like jangly pop feel not as prominent on the album itself. “Jupiter” featured a synth-driven string section that enlivened an otherwise middling number. There was only one real missed note – the overly angry “Go to Hell” which liberally features the f-bomb and seemed out of place among the more positive power pop and guitar ballads.
Geffen, who played both guitar and keyboards, provided all the inter-song patter – in Hebrew. Wilson, who usually handles that job responsibility on the road, was entirely silent.
The band ended with the anthem “End of the World” – originally a Geffen song sung in Hebrew with his band The Mistakes.
While not quite prophetic on a global level, it was perhaps the most appropriate way for this band to say so long, at least in its current incarnation.