Gig review: MARILLION – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4 November 2019

MARILLION - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4 November 2019

Rightly acknowledged as one of the bands at the forefront of crowdfunding, I’m beginning to think Marillion should also be given credit as pioneers in recycling.

Because whilst I’ve been a fan since Fish jumped ship 30 years ago, I caught a virulent dose of Marillionitus a couple of years back which saw my collection expand exponentially with countless DVDs and live albums.  The result, a collection crammed with, in particular, ‘live’ duplication.

But then just when I was beginning to think (like my long suffering spouse)  “enough is, just perhaps, enough” those clever chaps from Aylesbury have found yet another wheeze to exploit their well-trodden back catalogue.

MARILLION - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4 November 2019

And, to be fair, many will welcome the opportunity to hear/see just what the ‘with friends from the orchestra’ format the band deployed for their Royal Albert Hall debut in 2017 has to offer, with the re-recording and re-arranging of numbers from across Seasons End, Holidays In Eden, Brave, This Strange Engine, Anoraknophobia, Marbles, and Sounds That Can’t be Made for the band’s new studio album.

We didn’t have to wait long to find out – the sheer brutality and carnage of ‘Gaza’ giving no quarter to the band’s ‘friends’ – its sheer power rattling the very foundations of the auditorium.

MARILLION - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4 November 2019

And in a curiously unforgiving and largely bombastic set – a couple of intros (notably ‘Estonia’) and mid-section breaks (‘Season’s End’, ‘The Sky Above The Rain’) aside – the In Praise Of Folly String Quartet, Sam Morris (French Horn) and Emma Halnan (flute) were, to a large degree, lost in the mix.  Perhaps only a full orchestra (as deployed last year by Steve Hackett) would have countered the band’s chosen approach.

I did wonder whether it was where I was seated, but as Dave Randall roamed the auditorium for the best photo shots, he assured me it was the same elsewhere.  Which was a bit of a surprise.  I was expecting more of an unplugged/Less Is More integrated approach – as on ‘The Hollow Man’ – that that could have put an entirely fresh complexion on the material. But no, this was a ‘full on’ Marillion gig with their ‘friends’ bolted on.

MARILLION - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4 November 2019

Not that I’m complaining – because Marillion are one of the best live acts on the circuit with Hogarth – quietly celebrating his 30th year with the band – the most engaging of raconteurs, and I’d venture the finest singer these Isles can currently offer (and with more costume changes than Britney Spears).

It was clear, however, that the band are still struggling to come to terms with playing politely seated ‘posh’ venues, in stark contrast to the cattle sheds packed with the swaying, sweaty Kop-type throngs of a couple of years back.  And it wasn’t helped by the stage lighting creating an almost ‘daylight’ effect throughout the auditorium for large portions of the gig.

MARILLION - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 4 November 2019

But, the band were as faultless and professional as always, and a joy to see and hear.  It was also impressive to see them mix up and change the set list for the third night running.  Not many would be that brave, audacious, or self-confident.  As for the ‘friends’, had it not been for their physical stage presence, I suspect many would have been unable to ‘spot the difference’.

Which led me think that what could be really special, would be an H and Friends tour.  I wish.

Review by Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall

Setlist: Gaza / Afraid Of Sunlight / Seasons End / Estonia / The Hollow Man / The New Kings / The Sky Above the Rain / The Great Escape / Encore 1: Fantastic Place / Separated Out (with excerpt of Kashmir) / Encore 2: Man Of A Thousand Faces / This Strange Engine

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