[Live Review] Marillion – Christmas Tour 2014, TivoliVredenburg Utrecht

va_marillion-christmasAh, 1988, it was the year the first internet virus showed up on our screens, the first exoplanet was discovered, the United Nations stated it would wipe out polio and a lot of forgettable Hollywood stars were born. Indeed, it was a very good year. Sadly 1988 was also the year leadsinger Fish, left the progressive rock band Marillion due to managerial issues. At the time Fish was a larger-than-life icon and the hole he left seemed difficult to fill up. However Steve Hogarth, who was appointed to be his successor, managed to start a new successful era with Marillion. On Monday, the band visited the sold out TivoliVredenburg as part of their 2014 Christmas Tour, Sounds from the Darkside mingled with a merry crowd and reports.

Lets face it, a Marillion with Fish is very different than a Marillion without the good man. To many the pre-1988 period is close to the heart. From the soul cutting Script for a Jester’s Tear (1983) to the downhearted Clutching at Straws (1987) to fans this period is one big sing-along which sadly came to an sudden end. With Seasons End (1989) the Hogarth era started and it took hardcore fans some time to get used to, for Fish’s sharp voice contrasted significantly with Hogarth’s melancholy. Yet, eventually most of us came to terms with the new and catchy Marillion. Though the band aimed for commercial success the major radio stations almost neglected the band so a handful of qualitative good tracks were mostly heard by the band’s huge fanbase. Throughout the years Marillion’s fans remain very loyal but the band doesn’t attract many newcomers, making its following a cult of its own. Personally, Marillion’s struggle with their ambitions caused me to lose interest in the band after Afraid of Sunlight (1995). The releases became too obedient, too polished and just weren’t exciting anymore. At some point I decided the glory days of Marillion were truly over and only kept spinning the tracks from old. Fans who still follow the band however still fame the band’s live reputation, but hey, after about 30 years listening to Marillion they can’t be expected to be very objective anymore.

Apparently having chosen the old Vredenburg venue over one of the newly built halls above it, one thing is clear from the moment we enter the theatre: it’s absolutely brimming with atmosphere tonight. Packed with people and not exactly bathing in light, you get the feeling you’re in a cozy room with friends. Perhaps that is why Luke Jackson’s acoustic piddling on guitar works better than it perhaps should. The man has talent as a guitarist, but his songwriting and vocal skills leave a little to be desired, as the thirty-odd minutes of play time he gets are filled with same-y songs with same-y vocal lines giving you the feeling he could have crammed all his effort into five minutes whilst getting the same results. In other words: not that impressive. Not when you’re waiting for Marillion.

MarillionPromo-LessIsMore

Kicking things off in style, the band opens with a head-first dive back into the past with Afraid of Sunlight’s Gazpacho. Pete Trewavas’ bass roars like a beast, and Ian Mosley’s drums pound like thunder, whilst Steve Rothery’s guitar solos soar. Centre point of this sonical whirlwind is Steve Hogarth, maybe forever doomed to be the new guy. One thought crosses the collective audiences’ mind: boy, this is going to be good. The band is obviously in top form tonight, and Hogarth easily wraps the crowd around his finger from the very start. The Uninvited Guest is fired at the audience next, before the band visits their latest album Sounds That Can’t Be Made for the first of only two times. The crowd gratefully gobbles the material up, and be it old of new material, their voices are loud and clear tonight. Moving even further back in time with No One Can, however, you can start to see a pattern form.

Hereafter the good-humoured Hogarth leaped back in time even further and introduced Warm Wet Circles by respectfully thanking Fish as its writer and the Dutch Marillion fanclub for their support throughout the years. Warm Wet Circles, was executed in style and seamlessly flowed into the accompanying That Time of the Night (The Short Straw). The latter song was embraced by the audience and was passionately chanted along. Both songs are essential on the band’s break-up album, Clutching at Straws, and were almost exact copies of the album version we know so well. Hogarth pretty much crawled under Fish his skin, dashing around the stage in full fury that in a way did remind of the band’s turbulent phase in the late 80s. As said execution was perfect, maybe too perfect. Another pair of songs, Woke Up and Trap the Spark come from more recent times served a sort of midpoint in the show, free from the harshness of before the band catched up on it’s breath and made their way to another sing-along, Easter that was followed up by short detour to their latest studio album. With Sounds That Can’t Be MadeMarillion shows off their strong-bodied form. In full synergy Hogarth, Mosley, Trewavas, Kelly and especially Steve Rothery gear up. Sounds That Can’t Be Made was tensely built up and exploded in the end with two gracious solos from Kelly and Rothery. On the immersively sung Seasons End, the always polite-looking Rothery, continued his tantalizing guitar play and almost stole the show from the vocalist, whose clownesque behaviour was becoming tiresome at some point. The regular set is rounded off in style with Man of a Thousand Faces and King.

The 2014 Christmas Tour is not called a Christmas tour for nothing, as we find out when the band returns on stage. The podium is decorated with cozy Christmas lights, giving one the feeling they’re in the comfort of their own living room. The only thing sadly missing is a proper tree, which Steve Hogarth is more than happy to point out (“I was promised a tree!”). Now, of course Christmas is a time for sappy singalongs and a proper amount of cheesy but festive cheer, but whoever thought of covering Mel Tormé’s The Christmas Song is either a genius or insane. As Hogarth himself notes beforehand, “this keeps falling on its arse everytime we play it.” Glad they were able to chuck it into the set tonight, then. Then again, a bit of corny fun never hurt anyone. A little better fares the well-known (and worn-out) Happy Xmas (War Is Over), originally bestowed upon us by the late John Lennon and his wife. It’s definitely not the best of Christmas songs, but it’s a hearty one, and it sure gets the crowd going. And not for the last time tonight, either. Marillion closes off this short but festive set with a heartfelt (and alcoholic) cheer to good health; the classic Slàinte Mhath from Clutching At Straws.

Perhaps Hogarth suited the action to his own words, for his second return to a stomping crowd seemed to be a tipsy one. Immediately after the first notes of the band’s evergreen, Kayleigh, the singer aimlessly wandered around stage and summoned the crowd to sing the lyrics aloud. A job that was picked up with pleasure of course. During Kayleigh’s second part he vocally got more involved but also decided this was not the kind of involvement he was looking for. Hence, he tossed himself on the stands during ‘Garden Party’. From here an unleased Hogarth made his way, singing through the masses and tumbling from stand to stand. Eventually arriving at the ground floor, a part of the overheated ‘selfie-hunting’ crowd decided to lift him up for a crowd surf back to the podium. Without any visible injuries he completed the festive track with verve, leaving Vredenburg in ecstasy.

Admittedly, as fans from the Fish days more than Marillion‘s later work, we went in a little more sceptical than perhaps warranted, and it’s always a pleasure to be taken by surprise when you’re expecting less. With an impressive set list covering both the old and the new, and a cheerful and festive interlude, there is naught to complain about Marillion‘s performance in Utrecht. Being the same classic line-up sans Fish for close to thirty years now, perhaps we should have known better. We stand corrected, and could not be happier about it.

Set list:

  1. Gazpacho
  2. The Uninvited Guest
  3. Power
  4. No One Can
  5. Warm Wet Circles
  6. That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)
  7. Woke Up
  8. Trap the Spark
  9. Easter
  10. Sounds That Can’t Be Made
  11. Seasons End
  12. Man of a Thousand Faces
  13. King
  14. The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé cover)
  15. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (John Lennon cover)
  16. Slàinte Mhath
  17. Kayleigh
  18. Garden Party

Line-up:

  • Steve Hogarth – lead vocals, keyboards, guitars, percussion
  • Steve Rothery – guitar
  • Mark Kelly – keyboards
  • Pete Trewavas – bass
  • Ian Mosley – drums, percussion

Further surfing:

Review by Wander Meulemans & Ralph Plug // 171214

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