Monday, 5 December 2016

Marillion - London Review

Marillion have been one of my favourite bands for many years now. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to pick one overall favourite band, Marillion would probably be my choice. The diversity in their material and the emotional impact of their songs are the main reasons they would be my choice, and they are a band I will always return to. I was initially only familiar with their 1980s output, but seeing the band at the Cambridge Rock Festival in 2008 made me listen to the band's more recent work and I have not looked back since. An acoustic show in Cornwall's Carnglaze Caverns followed in 2009, and a full electric set at the 2010 High Voltage Festival was one of the weekend's highlights. My first 'proper' headline show was a disappointment. Sheffield's dingy Corporation is not an appropriate venue for a band of Marillion's stature and popularity to play and the place was far too overcrowded. The heat and the crush ruined the night for me, despite the band putting on a great show, and reactions on the band's forum following the show showed I was not the only one with these views. This was back in 2012, so four years have passed since my last Marillion live experience. The release of their new album Fuck Everyone and Run earlier in the year brought an inevitable tour with it though, so getting tickets was a priority for me. The band's London venue of choice these days seems to the the O2 Forum in Kentish Town. This is a fairly regular haunt for me too, as it seems to be popular with the larger melodic metal bands. It is a good-sized venue, with a decent sound system to match, meaning bands always sound great there. I do find it best to stand behind the sound desk however, as views from the pit can often be quite restricted.

Before Marillion however, the growing crowd were treated to just over half an hour of music from John Wesley. Wesley was a long-time sideman for progressive rock giants Porcupine Tree and has worked with Marillion's former singer Fish in the past, so it could be argued he fits into the wider extended Marillion family! I know that Wesley's solo material is quite popular among the progressive rock fandom, but his set did little to excite me. The fact that he was performing with a backing track did not help. He sung and played lead guitar live, but had more guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums on a backing track which he played on. I know that finances can often make touring as a band difficult, but I found the set to be extremely jarring as the vast majority of it was not live. I would much rather have seen him performing an acoustic set instead. That being said, he is clearly an excellent guitarist. His solos were easily the best parts of his set, and he shone during these moments. Overall however, his songwriting just failed to resonate with me and the manner in which the set was presented was strange. Not for me I am afraid.

It was around 20 minutes after Wesley's set finished that Marillion took to the stage, and the sold out London crowd were treated to well over two hours of the band's unique progressive rock. Many lengthy epics were played during the night, with The Invisible Man starting things off. It has never been my favourite Marillion song, but something about it seemed to click this evening. Frontman Steve Hogarth originally appeared on a screen singing the first part of the song, while the electronics and snake-like bassline from Pete Trewavas (bass guitar/vocals) filled the arena. Hogarth eventually appeared, guitar in hand, and sung the rest of the song conventionally as it builds towards a screaming climax which sees the whole band firing on all cylinders. A few punchier songs followed. Steve Rothery's (guitar) hypnotic guitar melodies heralded the arrival of Power, before Sounds That Can't be Made saw the first real crowd singalong of the evening. Hogarth and Mark Kelly (keyboards/vocals) were both at the keyboards for this song, and Rothery's soaring guitar leads that surface towards the song's end were sung by the crowd long after the song ended. Fantastic Place is a personal favourite of mine, with Hogarth's mournful piano and mumbled vocals creating a unique atmosphere, before Rothery's restrained leads add real colour throughout. It is one of the band's most emotionally-charged songs for me, and it is always a joy to hear it live. The final song in this suite of shorter numbers was Sugar Mice. The only Fish-era song played, the song became a huge crowd singalong moment, with Hogarth often holding out the microphone for the crowd to take over. The song contains one of Rothery's most recognisable guitar solos too, and watching him play it live was special. The highlight of the set for me however was a complete performance of The New Kings, the third epic on the band's new album. This was something I was looking forward to hearing, and luckily it did not disappoint. The images and videos projected onto the screen behind the band added to the atmosphere and one of the biggest cheers of the night came at the end of the song. The ending, anthemic part was particularly powerful live with Hogarth's theatrics and energy really bringing the song to life. The acoustic-led rock 'n' roll of Man of a Thousand Faces was a bit of an upbeat antidote in the midst of a set that was dominated by emotionally-charged numbers. Two such songs followed to close out the main set. King was another set highlight, with pictures of many musicians and actors who succumbed to their demons projected behind the band to further the song's message. Hogarth sings the song with real passion, and it made for a really raw and open performance. Neverland, as always, brought the main set to a close and the band went off to huge cheers. A length encore section followed, with a complete performance of El Dorado from the latest album really wowing the crowd. This song has everything that is great about Marillion in a neat 15 or so minute suite. The dark F E A R section is particularly powerful, with murky guitar melodies and dark vocals from Hogarth really working their magic on the crowd. The final number of the evening was This Strange Engine, a song which really harks back to the band's early days soundwise at times with a lengthy keyboard solo from Kelly that uses some great retro sounds. Hogarth's midi cricket bat made an appearance, and the song also saw him climbing atop the speakers to sing the from on on high. The epic song ensured the evening ended on a high, and the band left to rapturous applause from the Marillion faithful. The setlist was:

The Invisible Man
Sounds That Can't be Made
Fantastic Place
Living in F E A R
Sugar Mice
The New Kings - Part I: Fuck Everyone and Run
The New Kings - Part II: Russia's Locked Doors
The New Kings - Part III: A Scary Sky
The New Kings - Part IV: Why is Nothing Ever True?
Man of a Thousand Faces
El Dorado - Part I: Long-Shadowed Sun
El Dorado - Part II: The Gold
El Dorado - Part III: Demolished Lives
El Dorado - Part IV: F E A R
El Dorado - Part V: The Grandchildren of Apes
This Strange Engine

Overall, this was a fantastic show from a band that will always be a favourite of mine. I am happy that I finally got to see a great 'proper' headline show from a band I have liked for quite some time, and this managed to wipe away those memories of being hot in Sheffield! I will not have to wait as long to see the band again too, as I managed to get a ticket for the now-sold out show at London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall next year! I already have quite a few big gigs lined up for next year, and that is something extra to look forward to!

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