Ok, so I did say the new album would be a grower when reviewing it last August! Don’t lynch me, it’s just that I do like the more straight-ahead romantic side of Marillion which is a little obscured on the latest offering. Steve Rothery has called it their “protest” album.
As if to underline my theories, when we saw the band perform at this venue last November it was shocking that nearly all the audience was made up of old (or older) men. Either Steve Hogarth has lost his sex appeal (unlikely) or he now only appeals to an ageing male populace. I blame Brexit: we’re all fucked up.
Since that gig Marillion have played their first weekend event in South America, and most recently a triumphal first date at the hallowed Royal Albert Hall when they even shed any pre-Hogarth set-list inclinations.
Given the age of their current audience my fellow scribe Pete Whalley bemoaned the lack of seating for elderly attendees. The band appear to have put this right next April when they play a series of seated venues and maybe with branded corsets on the merch. stall. Perhaps it is only then that we will be able to take in their sumptuous music without FEAR of an unravelling beer belly.
In the meantime it was business as usual at their Manchester bolt hole, the packed and sticky Academy. The great thing about a Marillion gig is the unpredictable. Would they play the new album in its entirety as they did at the Royal Albert? It’s as much about what they leave out as what’s left in.
As it turns out only three songs from F E A R were featured and we could argue, again, that they weren’t the most accessible. So we got ‘El Dorado’ and ‘The Leavers’, both played to an impressive backdrop, together with their current “hit” single.
It was what went in-between that always intrigues and – presumably to acknowledge this year’s ‘Misplaced Childhood’ reissue/promotion – we got the perhaps inevitable if still convincing ‘Heart Of Lothian’ together with Fish-era classics ‘Market Square Heroes’ and ‘Garden Party’.
However, the band balanced this with the inclusion of the less familiar, so we heard the excellent ‘Beyond You’ (from Afraid Of Sunlight) and ‘Three Minute Boy’ (from Radiation).
If like me you never quite understood the early Marillion persona – sub-Genesis, big frontman , florid lyrics – the arrival of Steve Hogarth in 1988 was a breath of fresh air and led the band into two superbly commercial and, yes, romantically-centred, albums ‘Seasons End’ and, more particularly, ‘Holidays In Eden’. From thereon in the band have gone from strength to strength, not least in harbouring core fan support via crowd funding.
Hogarth is a wonderful, charismatic frontman, totally engaging, good humoured and multi-tasking. Most of all, a great voice. The rest of the band give the aura of serious musos offering restraint and decorum where necessary along with the more incendiary when pushed. Whilst there might not be much in the way of band interaction/acknowledgment they are happy to keep the spotlight on Hogarth and, frankly, who wouldn’t?
With immaculate outings tonight for ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ and ‘This Strange Engine’ this last gig of 2017 rounds off an excellent year for the band, rising on the back of a fine album and punctuated by that Royal Albert Hall appearance.
Superlatives are probably a cliché when it comes to Marillion who consistently deliver what the fans want, be it either on album, on video, or at a gig. Their fan weekends are the stuff of legend. And, yes, the crowd demographic might be rigid these days but – damn it – you can’t have everything. Marillion do come closer than most to being the perfect band.
Setlist: El Dorado/Slainte Mhath/Uninvited Guest/Afraid Of Sunlight/Beyond You/Real Tears For Sale/Living In FEAR/Heart Of Lothian/The Leavers Encores: This Strange Engine/Garden Party/Market Square Heroes/3 Minute Boy
Review and photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
Footnote: It’s perhaps unusual to compliment a venue’s security staff but credit to the team at the Academy who were extremely helpful in facilitating our review and photos
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