Marillion (October 2016)

Date of Performance: October 22, 2016
Venue: Saban Theater, Beverly Hills, CA, US

It's been way too long since I've been to a live performance, due to various reasons (previous last show, 2012's NEARFest). And it's been way too long since I've seen Marillion perform live! The last tour that took them to the West Coast was in 2004, but for an Acoustic Trio performance at BajaProg 2006 (which I did not see). I was expecting a 2011 appearance, as it seemed they alighted on western shores every seven years (since 1990) and I had seen them on each of those tours. 2011 came and went... 2012... 2013...

So, I was pleased as punch when in 2015 a US tour was announced and that it would include the West Coast. And, in fact, at a venue, Saban Theatre, practically within spitting distance of where my sister lived! I was more excited than a child at Christmas. Tickets were bought immediately and then a nearly year-long wait for October 22 to arrive. Now, I must admit, I have been lax in reviewing their recent works - they're here in the library, but like oh so many things, remain unreviewed (and, ahem, in a few cases, yet unheard). So you may well wonder, why I would still get excited? Is just over past glories and I'm expecting some from an age now well past? No, by golly, it's because I still love Marillion and hearing now their latest, my lingering affection is justified. And because their coming here is rare.

So then, their performance that Saturday was Marillion at their best. The mix was perfect, where you could hear each instrument but not in a way that dominated the whole. It was a tad loud for these aging ears, but that was the only flaw. Well, at one point I think bassist Pete Trewavas' mic was turned off as he was singing some background vocals. The show was a little over two hours, but went by like it was only five minutes. All the shimmering guitar work from Rothery, all the epic and twiddly keyboard parts from Mark Kelly, all the emotive and expressive vocals from Steve Hogarth, the one-two punch of Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosley... all in perfect sync, a fine tuned machine. They may be getting on in years, but getting better with age (and they've been no slouches these last 30-odd years).

Whereas in 1997, when they were then debuting This Strange Engine, there seemed to be a little uncertainty playing the new material live, none of that here.* And for the most part, I was in the same boat as then, essentially hearing the new material live before hearing it on disc. Not exactly apples to apples, as I had heard the new album once due to a secret link from their US PR firm and, having pre-ordered the new album, had downloaded the pre-release single "New Kings." And the CD played as I made my way from home to the venue in Beverly Hills.

As you might expect, the bulk of the set consisted of tracks from that new album, Fuck Everyone And Run (or FEAR for short (and to get by censors in print; I am no such censor)). But earlier tracks were sprinkled in, too, including the title track from their previous studio album Sounds That Can't Be Made, a track from Afraid of Sunlight ("King") and... unlike at the first night of the tour in San Francisco, dipping back to the deeper past with a performance of "Sugar Mice," from 1987's Clutching At Straws. What struck me, however -- and certainly the choice of past material was carefully considered -- was how the music all seemed tie in with the theme of the new album. A darker look at the world, either musically and lyrically, or just lyrically. That theme is decidedly cynical. And how can one not be, looking at the world about us?

Hogarth is a dramatic presence on stage, not merely singing the songs, but embodying them. I have always found it somewhat weird being at a concert. Like a sporting event, you are watching someone work (even if it's fun work). In comparison, musicals make more sense - there is theatre, drama, movement and action. So often with concerts, there is some movement - guitarists and bassists running around, and/or swirling their hair around (depending on the band). But just as often, they feel like recitals; crowd sits quietly and observes, applauds when the piece is done, and then quiets down again for the next piece.... Anyway, Hogarth has presence; and it's not as if Rothery and Trewavas were statues but for their fingers... no, no, they moved about, crossing the stage at times. None of that is, of course, unusual for a concert... I am just musing aloud here.

Fans should not miss their opportunities to see Marillion live, let me tell you. If it is this rare that they make it to our shores, but for the annual Marillion Weekends (this year, I notice, not in Montreal). Hopefully the band will not just return to the "every 7 years" cycle of old, but maybe every two years (I'll give them time off the road).

I've included a few pictures here, taken with my cellphone. I was attending as a fan not as a journalist, so no "real" camera was with me. And, not having a press pass as in 2004, I assumed pictures would be verboten (as they usually are; maybe it's too hard these days with a thousand cells in the crowd). So, these are what I managed to take, fearful the ushers would usher me out and I'd miss a once in a more-than-seven-years chance. Besides, I didn't want to watch the show through my cell. I was there. In person. In as high-def as my old eyes could manage...

*I didn't review that show at the time -- barely existed (it was a little over 4 years old) and I was focused on CD reviews only -- and won't really here. Just want to say it was the first date of their US Tour, playing The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, and This Strange Engine had just come out in April - in the UK/EU at least, as I remember it being before the album was released in the US. I was hearing the material for the first time, being greatly enamoured of the powerful "Estonia"... and thinking later, when I listened to the album, how the live performance had much more emotion - presentation-wise, at least. Still a moving track. (my review of the CD is here).

Added: October 29th 2016
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
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Language: english

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