No-Man

Mixtaped

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That the partnership of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson should have lasted as long as it has given all the many other factors involved -- Wilson's own separate fame via Porcupine Tree and increasing work as an album producer, Bowness' many multiple collaborations with other artists and performers and his efforts in running the thriving Burning Shed label with co-founder Peter Chilvers -- means that to see not only first a No-Man career retrospective in All the Blue Changes but now a combination live show/documentary DVD in 2009 is something quietly remarkable. Then again, that in some ways has been the story of No-Man over the years, and Mixtaped covers this very well in its two-disc length, showing both where the band has been and where the bandmembers found themselves at the time of its release. The centerpiece of the presentation is actually yet another new phase for the group -- a return to live performance after 15 years, featuring members of Bowness' solo band joining Wilson and Bowness for a London show, the first of three dates on a 2008 European tour. It's notable that far from simply re-creating its work for the audience, the duo uses the band to give more of a rock bite to songs like "Carolina Skeletons" and "Days in the Trees." Even so, the emphasis remains strongest on recent work from Schoolyard Ghosts and Together We're Stranger instead of simply indulging in nostalgia. Bowness' elegant voice remains one of the best in English music while Wilson performs with easy grace, the whole band kicking up a heck of a noise on performances like "All the Blue Changes" and "Lighthouse." While Steve Bingham performs well on violin throughout, in a great turn original violinist Ben Coleman appears for a one-song cameo in the encore. His breathtaking, almost wild-sounding parts on "Things Change" are a poignant reminder of the band's earliest days, lifting an already strong performance to a new level. The second disc has the documentary Returning as its focus; if the enthusiasm in the narrator's words is perhaps the sign of an appreciative fan more than once, both Bowness and Wilson, interviewed both together and separately, have their own numerous thoughts on the band's history and how they've been able to make it work, while contributors including Coleman, original guitarist Stuart Blagden, and collaborators and artistic partners such as Carl Glover, the designer of their recent sleeves, and Theo Travis and Michael Bearpark offer their own thoughts. (In a nice touch, the journalist whose review of "Colours" helped break the band in 1990 to a wider audience, Chris Roberts, is featured along with his discussion of that review.) Archival video clips help illustrate some of the odd twists and turns in the band's history, including the 1992 tour where they were backed by the old Japan rhythm section of Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, and Richard Barbieri, while a slew of formal videos and commissioned films and an exhaustive release/show history fill out the corners.