Gig review: MARILLION – Manchester Academy, 28 November 2016

Marillion - Manchester Academy, 28 November 2016

Promoting their latest opus F E A R, this Marillion gig came sadly just too late to receive my ‘gig of the year’ nomination in the GRTR! Best of 2016 reviewers’ poll.

Marillion are in the somewhat unique position amongst their contemporaries in being able to rely on fanbase funding to fuel the breadth of their musical indulgences and they don’t disappoint – in terms of artistic integrity and providing value for money.

The F E A R tour stage set may have minimalistic lighting, but a filmic backdrop puts most shows I’ve seen in the last decade to shame.  I don’t know who put the footage together, but it adds a real depth to the material and this was a ‘show’ in the true sense of the word.

Marillion - Manchester Academy, 28 November 2016

Opening with ‘The Invisible Man’, Hogarth’s suited and booted centre stage entrance was heralded by his maniacal, bespectacled ‘singing’ head filling the back drop screen, peering over a stage with Steve Rothery carved in granite stage left, the metronomic Pete Trewavas stage right, and with Ian Mosley and Mark Kelly dominating the rear centre ground on risers, the latter delivering swathes of grandiose keys.

The pulsing ‘Power’ and ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ from the band’s last outing followed, before Hogarth – always an impassioned performer, introduced the first of taste of FEAR’s socio-political comment – a damning indictment of the greed and avarice and ‘fuck you’ attitude that permeates modern society.

A Marillion gig is always a mutual appreciation event and tonight was no different – each number, old and new, greeted with fervour, with the band looking suitably touched by some of the ‘sing alongs’ that punctuated the evening – most notably, and somewhat ironically, on the Fish-era ‘Sugar Mice’.  Why they can’t leave that period behind is a mystery, but I suspect I’m in a minority on that one.

Marillion - Manchester Academy, 28 November 2016

Personally, I’d have preferred to hear more of FEAR.  While ‘The New Kings’ was a highlight with its bedecked imagery of Gucci, yachts, jewellery and finery, underpinned by a dark underbelly of power, avarice, arrogance and contempt, ‘The Leavers’ simply demands to be played live, and there were regular calls for ‘White Paper’.

A poignant rendition of ‘King’, from Afraid Of Sunlight, was another number that benefitted from the movie reel of ‘lost’ icons from Monroe, Kennedy, and Ali to Lynott, Vicious, Winehouse and Bowie and beyond.

Most impressive was that of Keith Moon whose footage was underpinned by an explosive barrage from the drum kit of the normally economical Ian Mosley.  It was as if Moon had entered the room, and a wonderful touch.  Other bands – most recently Bad Co – have paid homage in this way, but this was a class apart.

Marillion - Manchester Academy, 28 November 2016

The inevitable setlist quibbles apart this was a near faultless performance – the two and half hour set putting most other bands to shame.  But looking around the audience, the demographics lean perilously close to pensioner status, so while there can be no complaints in terms of set length – the band perhaps need to have a have a thought for ageing bones, ligaments and tendons (and those of us who are vertically challenged) and play some seated gigs.  The Lowry is only just down the road, and if it’s good enough for Steve Hackett …

But that’s a minor gripe – Marillion have come a long way artistically, and to their credit refuse to compromise or stand still.  This gig underpinned their position as a somewhat unique force in the fading corridors of rock, and in many ways they are, indeed, the ‘new kings’.

This was a hugely impressive performance, and for once I’d really like to savour a DVD of the tour – which is a spectacle in every sense.

Setlist:  The Invisible Man / Power / Sounds That Can’t Be Made / Living in F E A R / Sugar Mice / The New Kings / Easter / Man Of A  Thousand Faces / King / Neverland / El Dorado / This Strange Engine

Review by Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall

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