The Forum, Kentish Town, London
11TH December 2014
"Tonight is all about songs that are a celebration of life", vocalist Steve Hogarth declared two songs in to this London date of the European Christmas Tour.
Considering the old adage that Marillion have being singing "songs about death and water since 1979" it was going to be interesting to see what fitted into this category.
Of course we still received the same dramatic intensity and power that Marillion gigs are known for, and although the spine-tingling epics of 'Gaza' and 'Invisible Man' did not appear tonight we were treated to an intense and dynamic setlist, that stretched right across the band's output since the 80s, and celebration was a good word for it.
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Marillion seem to be firmly grouped under the heading of Prog Rock these days, in the apparent need to categorise everyone, but they have always sat comfortably with the heavier end of this genre. Indeed they share a lot of common ground with Metal, especially the creativity, being comfortable with what you do, always open to experiences, and of course the huge musical dynamics.
Tickets for tonight's date at The Forum were sold out, and the venue, which two days before had thrilled to the demonic sounds of Behemoth, took on a whole new vibe, albeit one that was almost as dramatic in places.
The Christmas theme was in evidence from the start, with the pre-show background music being the latest release 'A Collection Of Recycled Gifts', a compendium of seasonal songs recorded over the years and sent to the fan club each year.
As a further warm up for the show, keyboard player Mark Kelly came out to speak to the audience before the start to request everyone to put down their smart phones and iPads and just enjoy the show.
I agree with him on this one, it does all seem to have got a bit out of hand lately. I was flying solo for this gig as none of our photographers were available and the necessity of having to take the pics and check that you are capturing a reasonable selection to use does distract from the full experience.
Even with this distraction, the gig was superb. From the explosive opening number 'Gazpacho' it was clear that the band meant business, with h, the natural born rock frontman, captivating from the start and transmitting an energy and intensity that can only come from within, no matter how many Tequila and Red Bulls are consumed.
Following 'Gazpacho', 'The Uninvited Guest' was a popular choice and heralded an appearance of the famous MIDI cricket bat and then Power, from 2012's 'Sounds That Can't Be Made' album lived up to its name, ensuring that the opening trilogy of tracks opened proceedings at the highest level.
There was a touching tribute from h to previous vocalist Fish, before a couple of tracks from the 'Clutching At Straws' album. It's baffling why there is still a perception of a loss of identity due to the two eras of the band. This current line-up has been unchanged since 1989 and has produced twelve original studio albums and countless side projects. It's a perennial irritation, and reminds me of the similar situation with Steve Morse from Deep Purple (who Marillion toured with last year) being the longest serving guitarist at twenty years, and in some lazy circles still considered the new boy.
Anyway, 'Warm Wet Circles' and 'That Time Of The Night' were incredibly well performed and received, the crowd being in good voice and singing along.
The band's chemistry in live performance is amazing. All eyes will be on h most of the time, throwing shapes, living every word, commanding the stage, but the rest of the band are phenomenal too. The rhythm section of Ian Mosley, barely visible from behind the massive bank of drums, and Pete Trewavas assuredly handle the complex songs while keyboard player Mark Kelly masters an eye-watering bank of sounds. Guitarist Steve Rothery is the perfect contrast to h – a steadfast presence who manages to make guitar solos that almost raise the roof look effortless.
We then jumped to 2008 for 'Woke Up' and 'Trap The Spark' - and the latter was breathtaking. Like Rainbow, Led Zeppelin and Muse, Marillion can take a slow tempo song, put in chord sequences to die for and infuse it with heavy layers that build and build and Steve Rothery's virtuoso guitar performance was the icing on the cake.
'Easter', the song of hope for those trapped in war zones, originally written for the Northern Ireland conflict, but just as relevant today, stirred emotions. This led in to 'Sounds That Can't Be Made', complete with the crowd continuing to sing-along after the track had ended, not quite all at the same time or in the same key but the effort was there.
For a night dedicated to celebration, 'Seasons End' was a surprising choice, with its stark exposure of global warming - "We'll tell our children's children why, We grew so tall and reached so high, We left our footprints in the earth, And punched a hole right through the sky... say goodbye to seasons end".
The song was prefaced with a few lines from the carol 'O Come Emmanuel', which is also bleak, but it does make you think – it's time for humankind to sort itself out, look after our home and our global brothers and sisters – now that would be something to celebrate.
'Man Of A Thousand Faces' was flawless as always and was followed up with the brilliant and dramatic 'King'. This started with h raising his Rickenbacker to the skies in salute before the song rams home the stark reality of the trappings of fame that some succumb to: "But the fire in your belly, That gave you the songs, Is suddenly gone, And you feel like a fake..."
No danger of that sentiment applying to this band – they are as authentic as it comes and the passion for the music and performance has never dimmed. It was a fitting way to end the main set.
For the first encore, the fairy lights were turned on, h returned to the stage in Christmas T shirt and light-up waistcoat and we were treated to a couple of festive songs. First up was 'The Christmas Song', aka 'Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire' a song described as having "died on its arse" in Manchester and Glasgow but they were going to do it here anyway.
It was received well, followed by' Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'. During the encore, artificial snow rained down over the first few rows of The Forum – this, combined with the songs would have been horrendously cheesy for most bands, but it just worked here. The snow, even though it didn't reach anywhere near the euphoric heights of being caught under a glitter cannon (but let's be honest – what does?), was quite charming.
Another early-era song came out next, 'Slainte Math' (or "Cheers, Good Health" for those of us from south of the border) and the feeling of goodwill from audience to band and back again was palpable.
The second encore saw 'The Release', a rarity that appeared on the 'Easter' single, followed by the early classic 'Garden Party', this pairing ending the show on an upbeat note. Marillion had conquered The Forum tonight, here is an example of a band that continues to perform at its peak, evolving and bringing new and fresh ideas.
We had several songs with dark and intense subject matter this evening, but through it all the celebration of life was evident – after all we are all still here, we can get through it, to live fully you have to experience the extremes. It certainly gives you hope for the future.
The Uninvited Guest
No One Can
Warm Wet Circles/That Time Of The Night
Trap The Spark
Sounds That Can't Be Made
Man Of A Thousand Faces
The Christmas Song
Happy Xmas (War Is Over)