San Francisco, L.A., Boulder, Milwaukee, Cleveland, New York, Bethlehem, Philly, D.C., New Haven, Boston…not typical stops on the bus if you're Fish. Then again, 2008 is not a typical year for the The Big Man from the land of dark ale, bagpipes, & kilts. Fish's stop in N.Y.C., on his way from Cleveland to Nearfest, was his first in The Big City since his 2000 visit to Irving Plaza, in support of Raingods With Zippos. I remember that night clearly--it was January and about 8 degrees out of doors. Fish in N.Y.C--indeed, in the U.S--always a monumental occurrence.
Read on for Steve Fleck's full concert review!
Then as now, Marillion's former front man is totally engaging, both in and out of character. Taking the B.B. King's stage at just after 9PM to voracious appreciation, Fish took up where he left business 8 years earlier. His ability to entrance an audience is undiminished. Something about the fact that the "obscure Scottish poet" is literally in front of you is a buzz that takes a while to wear off. Maybe it's his "New World" scarcity, maybe it's his aura--still intact--or maybe it's nostalgia, or perhaps all three. In either case, he has a tangible presence that's tough to describe. Maybe that's why there are so many Marillion fans that plain gave up after he left in 1988--because that karma is hopeless to replace.
Everyone who knows Fish knows that the 20-year anniversary of Clutching At Straws is at hand, and that tracks from that superlative & melancholy 1987 album were again seeing daylight in his current set. With a robust new album as well in 13th Star to support, a smiling Fish took the stage to the familiar keyboard intro of "Slainte Mhath," instantly reminding us why we miss him so much here in the U.S. Riveting, humble, amusing, focused, playful, insightful…all of the things that are increasingly difficult to find in so-called "cutting edge" artists of the day--including those who label themselves as "N.Y.C. bands," in a desperate attempt to market themselves based on what N.Y.C. artists used to be. In the land of skyrocketing real-estate, Starbucks, relaxing 1PM brunch and fat paychecks, what does N.Y.C. know about "edge" anymore? Funny that it takes a veteran Scottish musician to remind us. Our plight plays out like a classic Fish lyric.
Those reminders were in full swing on Wed night. "Hotel Hobbies," "Warm Wet Circles," and "That Time Of The Night" are legendary in their toxic spin on relationships and social ills, but how much more significant have "The Last Straw" and "White Russian" become in the 20 years since their penning?
Read the newspaper & try to deny: "The silence never louder than now/How quickly we forgot our vows/Their resurrection we can't allow/The Uzi's on a street corner/Where do we go from here?"
Or, deny the poignancy of one of my favorite phrases in all pop music, and all too relevant today: "Are we too far gone, are we so irresponsible/Have we lost our balls, or do we just don't care/We're terminal cases, that keep taking medicine/Pretending the end isn't quite that near."
Fish's legendary prowess with the pen continues to this day. From his latest techno-infused album, we heard the funky, drum looped, homage to ordinary existence in "Circle Line," ("9 to 5's the only time I try to kid myself that I'm alive"), the under-the-radar, ambiguous homage to yesteryear, "Square Go," ("No I.D, no credit card, I don't exist, I never have"), as well as the exquisite "Arc Of The Curve," ("If love is blind, then I will never see again"), the coy "Manchmal" (Google it) and the human tragedy of "Dark Star" ("You thrive on grief, on tragedy/You paint the pictures you want to see").
Fish's past lives aside from "Clutching" were limited. The only representations of other albums were "So Fellini," from Fellini Days, "Faith Healer," from Raingods… and "Cliché," from Vigil…which I always love to see--anything from that fine album is welcome to me.
When you've got a performer with almost 20 years of solo material to draw from, you're going to miss something in a 90 min set derived primarily from 2 albums. That said, we traded "Credo" for "Incommunicado", but performing Clutching… the one glaring omission for me was "Sugar Mice." My sleeper was "Torch Song," but I think the crowds longed for "Mice."
The Fish band is a field of veterans with some new blood tossed in. Veteran Fish has always been ahead of the curve in melding schooled vets with new talent, and this continues, with stalwarts like the exquisite Frank Usher and Foss Paterson on guitars & keys playing fine with Fish's new, younger guys.
Fish was again in fine form as storyteller. To be part of a Fish show is to be subjected to his off-the-cuff, between song anecdotes ("Mind if I speak for a minute?" I always say, uh, no, that's part of why I'm here). Among them, "Just then, a 'bleeping' rainbow appeared behind the 'bleeping' Empire State Building, and I realized I forgot my 'bleeping' camera!" To see Fish is to experience the spoken as well as the sung word. Get your ears on, because he speaks to you. It's not like Coldplay reading from a teleprompter or "ad-libbing" why it's OK to make a lyrical flub during a free concert at M.S.G. If these are our "rock stars" today, I'm so glad I'm in the Fish camp. Fish has more musical integrity in his head scarf than these clowns.
Supporting Fish were the Woodstock, N.Y. based rocker's 3. This Hudson Valley 5-piece spun a web of intricate fun. Meshing the strangest of bed-partners like samba style percussion & rhythms with heavy metal riffs and finger picking guitar, 3 represented a more authentic definition of "prog." Spitting in the face of the ever-popular European brand of "neo-prog" (featuring uber-talented individuals schooled in the science of theory & recorded projects with no feeling or concept of groove or band), 3 played what they felt & felt what they played. This is a band with true N.Y. attitude and innovation--"N.Y.C" bands of today, take note: these guys will be stomping on your door and taking your gigs from you soon, while you slumber at your lazy brunch. The spirit of Fish is infused in 3…look out.
Ken Pierce: If you are one who considers themselves a true connoisseur of Progressive Rock bands from our not too distant past then I am sure that the first few releases by the band Marillion hold a special place in your heart. Let's face it, the music that these guys were dishing out on "Script For A Jester's Tear" called to mind the early heyday of Peter Gabriel era Genesis and at the time this was a sound that was missed by legions of Prog fans and somehow, someway this band was bringing a little bit of that back to the foreground. The reason for this was very simply a man they called Fish. Fish aka Derek Dick was the bands singer for four outstanding albums and his voice had a lot of similarity to that of Gabriel but what added strength and appeal to the man was his profound ability to weave a tale that snared you from the first words he would sing. This made the album "Fugazi" a clever ride into new territory and made "Misplaced Childhood" an absolute masterpiece that is still as powerful today as it was when it was released some twenty three years ago. Fish would record one more release with the band before moving on to his solo career and this would be "Clutching At Straws", an album that some fans argue as being more poignant than "Misplaced Childhood" was, but that is an argument for a different time. Both Fish and Marillion would continue on and travel slightly different roads with the former singer being replaced by Steve Hogarth who would take the band on a slightly more commercially viable road while Fish would continue to delve into our innermost frailties and pour his own heart out in song. Fans took sides and while some remained with Marillion after his departure there were just as many who decided to follow Fish down the long road of human psyche that he would be travelling. As a song writer he proved he still had what it took and gave us "Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors", "Internal Exile", "Sunsets on Empire" and many, many more. The interesting thing was that despite this body of work the region of the States hardly had visits from Fish and tonight at the legendary B.B. King Blues Club we would be able to enjoy his material live for the first time in about eight years. This fact alone made the night a special occurrence to all who had planned on being there. Fish's return to this neck of the woods would be based on his headlining appearance at the Prog-Rock Festival known as NEAR Fest and while I had never attended the event, there was no one more deserving of such an honor than Mr. Fish. That evening I made sure to arrive early as I wanted to see if the singer was up for some sit down chat time and while he mentioned that he would have liked to he had a scheduled fan club meet and greet about twelve blocks away which was going to be keeping him busy until the show began. The early arrival did not come as a complete disappointment however because while Fish was unable to do any interview things it allowed me the chance to learn that the band Three was set to perform as the only opener of the night.
Three: Interestingly enough, the band was not listed on any of the gig announcements for the shows so it seemed as though this would be a one off appearance for them. I had caught Three on a number of occasions in the past and I really enjoyed what they were all about and the manner in which they spoke to the crowd in their music. While I was quite happy about them being here in NYC I also felt sad for the Fish fans on the other stops that would have probably enjoyed what these guys are bringing to the table. Three hit the stage about eight o'clock and had a decent show of support from their own fans in the venue already. You had to admire their dedication to show up and pay the ticket price that this event had to only see their favorite band for a little over forty five minutes. If you have no idea about this group yet, then you must treat yourself because they are rather interesting in their approach. The band is led and fronted by Joey Eppard who sings and plays guitar. He utilizes a flamenco style which adds a unique difference to the sounds that we are treated to in Three's music and it's the perfect compliment to the sounds coming out of guitarist Billy Riker. Riker is also interesting to watch onstage as he is a very visual player with the fans blowing his hair around while all sorts of atmospheric and spacey effects come out of his amps. The guys were certainly on point tonight and the drumming of Matt against the percussion that Joe was doing was all held together nicely by the bass work of Dan and while the set would not be a truly long one, we did get a lot of the bands staple numbers. "All That Remains" is a favorite of mine and I also really like "The End Is Begun" (which is also the title of their most recent album. The band recently came off the Progressive Nation Tour with Dream Theater and prior to that we found them on tour with both the Scorpions and Porcupine Tree. When you think about it, the music that Three is doing can effectively impress a wide number of listeners from across a wide gamut and I was happy to be witnessing the Fish fans that were arriving finding them of interest tonight. I even noticed a few rushing upstairs to the merchandise booth to purchase their CD's. It impressed me because with Fish not having been here in a number of years to perform it is the kind of event that often finds the fan with tunnel vision or the interest in only the main act who they were there to see. Three also has a lot of equipment on stage with Stote's percussion and keyboard rig along with Matt's drums but while playing in tight quarters, these Woodstock, NY residents still pulled out all the stops. We got a great drum solo and percussion duel and for me this is always one of the Three show highlights. Joey's voice was in fine form tonight and his sincerity to the music was very clearly showcased by his expression during the gig. Sadly their set was over before you knew it even though a full ten numbers had gone by. Their music is rather captivating so I must recommend that anyone who notices their name on a bill of bands appearing at a show get themselves inside the venue earlier enough to see what we are raving about. Now it was time for Fish and needless to say I was rather excited about this.
Fish: Having an appreciation for the man's accomplishments and strength of material I had to admit that I was finding it difficult to believe that he had not performed in the States in about eight years but that was the case and done in support of his "Raingods With Zippos" release. Fish's return to the region would culminate with a headlining spot at NEAR Fest and it all tied together with two other special events. The first would be the celebration of "Clutching At Straws" 21st anniversary. The brilliant album was the final Marillion release to feature Fish and considered as important a release as its predecessor "Misplaced Childhood". The other bit of news would be the recent release of "13th Star" which is Fish's newest solo album and one that finds the singer in impeccable musical and lyrical form. The two special events would find the set list to be primarily aimed at material from these albums with a select other number or two tossed in for good measure. Fish would hit the stage to the very familiar keyboard intro of "Slainthe Mhath" and the cheers when he became visible were enough to knock the man off the boards. The singer smiled as the number completed and he began the opener from his new album with "Circle Line" to resounding applause. He continued the introduction of new material with "Square Gold" but would go back in time just a bit for the next one with "So Fellini" from "Fellini Days". It was a night that was begun in a truly good fashion and it was interesting to notice how well his new material worked in with the songs we fondly recall from his Marillion years and his older solo efforts.
Anyone who has ever followed Fish knows that one of the most important parts of his appeal lies in his ability to tell a tale in song and to be one of the most engaging front men in the business. The audience at B.B. King's would get a lot of that tonight as every now and again the singer would say "can I talk to you for a minute", in his thick Scottish brogue. Whenever he spoke the audience was dead on focused on every word he would say and it was almost as if he was speaking directly to you as opposed to talking over the crowd like so many of the "stars" in today's musical society. When Fish spoke you felt as though you were listening to an old friend talk about life over a pint or a cup of tea. It was warm, heartfelt and most importantly – authentic. The singer spoke of love and how now after having a go at it some 150 times he was a bit of an expert. He mused about the mutual loss of hair among himself and the audience and even discussed a little bit of his tourism. Apparently while driving around the city he caught site of a rainbow over one of the more popular tourist sites and when he reached for his camera he realized that he had forgotten it. As I said, his conversation was nothing less than sincere and the audience would hang on his every word. In a musical geography where front men read off of a teleprompter as their method of audience banter it was great to be in a room where you felt that the singer was speaking to you directly and without hesitation.
A triple play from "Clutching" would come next with "Hotel Hobbies", "Warm Wet Circles" and "That Time of Night" and by now it was clear that nothing would be presented from "Misplaced Childhood". It made sense since he had toured this release extensively over the past couple of years but I admit a little disappointment in not being able to hear "Kayleigh" in person. It has long been my very favorite Marillion tune and probably the reason that I listened to them in the first place. I would have liked to see a little more from "Vigil" or "Internal Exile" this evening but material from that time would fall solely on the song "Cliché". Throughout the night the band was in incredible shape and this is to be expected when one has the one and only Frank Usher on guitar and Foss Peterson on keyboards. The rest of the guys are younger gents whose talents really shined as every note was played. Running down the list we had Gavin Dickie (bass), Gavin John Griffiths (drums) and Chris Johnson (guitar) – each of them superb players who were making this music come to beautiful life this evening. During "Faith Healer" Fish chose to come off of the stage and walk among the crowd with raised hands and he was met with eager smiles and hand shakes as he wandered down in the general area for a few minutes before getting back on the stage to complete the tune. I'm not sure if he does this often because tonight it seemed like one of those spontaneous decisions. Either way, this worked out rather well.
Fish would close the evening out with "Incommunicado" and it left everyone in the venue screaming for more and chanting "Fish, Fish, Fish" at the top of their lungs. We sure got a lot out of the gig tonight but if I could cite one gripe it would be in the glaring omission of "Sugar Mice", one of the most popular tunes from "Clutching At Straws". Needless to say the set list didn't disappoint anyone around me but it did leave them wanting more and perhaps that was the mood that Fish wanted to leave us with. As we all exited the venue I heard people discussing how they wished he had opted to do two shows as opposed to the one and I had to agree. It was fantastic to see this reception being given a man who has given Progressive Rock music fans so much and one can only hope that he doesn't wait another eight years to return. Mr. Fish, I raise a pint to you – "Slainthe". We anxiously await the news of next tour.
Three Set List:
1. The Word Is Born
2. The End Is Begun
4. Alien Angel
5. All That Remains
6. My Divided
10. Drum Solo
11. Amaze Disgrace
Fish Set List:
1. Slainthe Mhath
2. Circle Line
3. Square Go
4. So Fellini
6. Hotel Hobbies
7. Warm Wet Circles
8. That Time of Night
9. The Arc of a Curve
10. Dark Star
11. Faith Healer
12. White Russian
14. Last Straw
Official Web site: www.the-company.com
Official Web site: www.theband3.com