Racket Records [Release date: 06.04.18]
The 64th release (count ‘em) on Marillion’s own Racket Records label is a live recording of their Royal Albert Hall gig last October. Despite the prolific rate at which they produce concert material, the band decided to give the DVD a plush screening debut at the King’s Cross Everyman cinema.
I arrived to find the band chewing the fat with fans and hacks alike in the bar of this new picture palace built on the old marshalling yards at KX. No wonder Marillion’s stock is so high with their legions of hard core fans. All five members were present and happy to chat, pose for pictures and generally mingle with all present.
They introduced the screening by recalling the very special night captured on film from their first ever appearance at the Royal Albert Hall. Drummer Ian Mosley warned us not to get too excited as there were no car chase scenes and then they took up their seats right behind me before he could attempt any more jokes.
DVD’s of live tours have a chequered record. Often no more than a half-hearted souvenir for those who turned up at the gigs, they can be disappointing. Not so with this high-quality product.
If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to invest in a high-end home cinema system, the moment has arrived. Pumped through state of the art speakers, the sound of this concert was stunningly clear and crisp. There were a couple of moments where Steve Rothery’s guitar breaks announced a change in a song’s pace and mood with such shuddering drama that I flinched. Witness ‘The Leavers IV. The Jumble of Days’ or various parts of ‘White Paper’.
The first set is the band’s 2017 album ‘FEAR’ played in its entirety. The sights and sounds of the top spec recording are impressive. Tim Sidwell has directed the movie with authority and imagination. Throughout the recording, the spider cam sweeps over the top balconies capturing the enormity of the light show. Often the shots are cut with intimate portraits of the band: picking out beads of sweat on Mark Kelly’s brow, anguish on the face of Steve Hogarth, a gleam from Pete Trewavas’s ebony fretboard or the sheen on Rothery’s pearlescent scratchplate.
At the end of ‘The Leavers I. Wake Up In Music’, the band address the RAH crowd for the first time. Their reaction is one of the reasons why this film stands out amongst other concert DVDs. There was no faking or false modesty about Hogarth’s gasps as the applause rumbles on for minutes; or about Rothery’s beaming smile, or Mark Kelly’s wide-eyed stare. Even for these seasoned pros, the Royal Albert hall legions had created a special moment.
‘FEAR’ is a very accomplished album, and for me has some of the band’s best work amongst the complex movements. Nevertheless there are some quieter, reflective passages on the album that, and I hardly dare whisper this, I find a little, well, dull. Not so on stage. Carried by the light and video show, with a bolder live mix, and with the scope of the shots, there was no point where the attention wandered from the performance.
So much so that after ‘Living In Fear’ closed I applauded and whooped as if I was at the gig. An immersive experience. I half wondered if the band sat behind me might lean forward, tap me on the shoulder and ask me to keep it down…
When it came to close-ups, Ian Mosley didn’t get much of a look-in. Possibly because of the positioning of the second keyboard and dulcimer for Steve Hogarth. But his presence was particularly felt on ‘Leavers V. One Tonight’, powered along on a wonderfully dense, heavy rhythm.
After the interval, Side 2 (as it were) is equally special. The band were joined by In Praise of Folly, a string quartet that has worked with them before, augmented by French horn and flute.
‘The Space’ and ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ proved to be beautifully suited to the new arrangements. Songs with room to breathe is the key. Sometimes strings can make a song feel claustrophobic. Here there is added depth and emotion.
‘Easter’ is a song that has aged well and again worked in this revised format. Rothery’s aching solo is a bona fide modern-day classic.
On entering the cinema, we had all been offered finger lights. When the band played ‘Go!’ we turned them on and waved our lit-up hands in time to the line ‘Wide awake/On the edge of the World’, a visual echo of the thousands on screen inside the Albert Hall doing the same. An extra-ordinary and slightly surreal sight.
The film barely drops from these dramatic moments throughout the remainder of the set. The strings made a significant difference to ‘Waiting To Happen’ from ‘Holidays In Eden’ and ‘Neverland’ felt suitably epic, with Rothery dealing one spiralling solo after another.
A reprise of ‘Leavers V. One Tonight’ was pretty much the perfect set closer and the film trails away with the band taking an emotional extended standing ovation through a storm of ticker tape.
No-one in the cinema rises from their seats very quickly. From the back, Hogarth says ‘That’s it! They don’t play another one!’ and leaves the auditorium. When I exit a few minutes later, the band are still chatting to fans at the bar.
A stand out concert DVD is a rare thing. That’s exactly what we have here. This release is also available on CD, yet this is one time where I would instead recommend the film. Not just for those who were there, but as a high quality visual record of a very special gig. *****
Review by Dave Atkinson
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