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ConcertsMarillion Scratches Its 7-Year Itch

Posted on Saturday, October 09 2004 @ 01:29:13 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Rock
Duncan Glenday reports on Marillion's outstanding show in Washington, DC
on October 7th, 2004,
And Steve Fleck contributes a description of the previous night's New York gig

Do you remember marbles? Those glass orbs we played with as kids? Well – marbles have never really been integral to childhood culture in here the USA, but they certainly are in the British realm where I grew up.

When Steve Hogarth was a boy he had about a thousand marbles. He discovered that when you hit marbles with a tennis racket they really fly! And where do they come down? When young Steve got home he found all the neighbors complaining about broken windows and greenhouse roofs, so his precious marble collection was confiscated! Stevie managed to save a handful though, and as he grew up he kept them so he could give them away to a lucky kid … but now they're all lost, so he can't give them away.

On Marillion's brilliant new CD Hogarth sings from the heart about that bitter sweet, real life experience, and you can read the story in the lyrics of the 4 brief songs – "Marbles I", "Marbles II", "Marbles III" and "Marbles IV". And now Americans and Canadians can see Marillion play the entire CD, cover to cover, live.

And what a show it is!

In two conversations with guitarist Steve Rothery, I reminded him that Marillion has been absent from its American fanbase for some 7 years – and the prior tour was almost 7 years before that. I was reassured that the 7-year-itch is gone and they're planning a return around mid-year 2005, where they hope to play a few festivals and perhaps reach a whole new fanbase.

That quick return will be a pleasant surprise considering their rough landing on this trip.

When the Transportation Safety Administration discovered that Yusuf (Cat Stevens) Islam was on an airplane from England to Washington they turned it around pronto, unloaded the hapless singer-songwriter, and immediately threw a planeload of planned connecting flights into disarray. Marillion was on that flight, and by the time they arrived at Dulles the area hotels were all booked. So courtesy of America's watchdogs of the sky, Marillion spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on those awful airport chairs and got to the tour's first stop – Mexico – a day late.

Steve Hogarth and Pete Trewevas

Welcome back to America guys! The Mexican reception made it worth the upheaval, though, and they played to 6,000 fans in two shows.

The American audience has also been enthusiastic and almost every venue they've played so far has been sold out. Their European tour also sold out, so the guys are obviously doing something right. Steve pointed out to me that the band typically loses around $60,000 on a US tour and he quips "it would be a lot cheaper of we just gave everyone a CD and stayed at home!" But they're here for the fans, and the fans have shown their appreciation in two ways: Firstly, all indications are that despite only hitting American shelves this week, the new record will outsell Anoraknophobia, itself a commercial success; and according to the early returns, they will probably break even on the Marbles tour.

The October 6th show in New York was filmed, and Sea of Tranquility's Pete Pardo and Steve Fleck attended the show. Steve had this to report:

Fresh off of the release of their fine double album Marbles, the Marills have concocted a beautiful set of exquisite live music. Performing the abridged version of their new album clocking in at just over an hour, this is certainly not your father's Marillion. The set consisted of all Steve Hogarth-era material, not surprising when you consider he's been the front man for some 17 years (outlasting his famous predecessor Fish by nearly 10 years). In that the new material is superb, thoughtful & runs the gamut of emotions, the band hasn't faltered from it's original concept over 20 years ago. But Marbles is sonically unlike anything they've ever done. Translating that to live presentation, the band has reached new heights,

The remarkable performance of it's individuals is the genesis of a crafting over time by an obvious love of what they do. Pete Trewavas' bass lines are innovative, yet he never seems to give up the bottom end while locking in with uncanny drummer Ian Mosley. Steve Rothery's silky guitar tone is legendary, but he's gotten even better with time, adding to & expanding his style & sound (the subtle genius of his solo in Angelina is more Chet Atkins than classic Rothery). Mark Kelly can't be overlooked on keyboards--I think more than ever his relentless innovation is the ingredient that makes this all still work. And then there's Hogarth. What a performer. He dazzles on record with his unique texture and soaring delivery (always heard a bit of Garfunkel in him), but every time I've seen him live, I'm just knocked out by how he never misses a note, never mails it in or even takes the lower octave to "save his voice" for later. Hogarth has unquestionably the most amazing voice I've ever experienced in a rock pop performance. They're also a fun group of guys, and man they hit their mark with this album & tour. Catch this show, even if you don't know a lot of their newer material. There's enough from Anaraknophobia, Afraid of Sunlight & Season's End/Holidays In Eden and the band plays their heart out well past the average running time of a rock concert. Kudos, guys, you've transcended the definition of rock, or for that matter, live music.

Well, Pete and Steve, my friend Dave attended both the New York and the DC shows, and he believed the DC gig was way better. Which is interesting, since before the DC show, Rothery told me that the best shows to date had been Chicago and New York.

Dave was planning to see Marillion again in Philly the next night, and he wasn't the only one trailing the tour bus. I came across at least a half dozen fans who were attending every show on the east coast, including the two Canadian gigs.

Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday with guitarist Steve Rothery

If you already know Marillion's music, you know that Rothery's guitarwork stands shoulder to shoulder with such luminaries as David Gilmour and Steve Hackett. He recently changed over from Marshall to Laney amps, changed the custom pickups on his two Strats and a Tele, and he's generating a far warmer sound. Interestingly, Steve and Pete Trewavas do a fun thing on the side, where they cover blues numbers at small clubs. Those two factors account for the subtle alteration to Steve's playing style on Marbles. It is a fat sound, it is bluesey, brilliantly played and spine tinglingly emotional. When asked about doing a solo album, Rothery explains that he's been collecting pieces for years, but they're all over the map style-wise. "I probably have at least 4 CDs of good instrumentals, but I'll have to settle on a style before I decide if I'm going to publish any of it".

Physically slight Pete Trewavas handles that big bass with ease, and is has the pep of the energizer bunny – jumping, walking around the stage, visiting with Rothery (they're all cordless) – he is never still. But Hogarth is the frontman in more ways than one. He is a charismatic showman and the deep meaning behind each song is abundantly clear from the stage antics and the earnest expression. In "The invisible Man" I'm perfectly sane / I'm perfectly sane! / But I am the invisible man – you can just see the desperate attempt to convince himself that he's okay. Hogarth's lyrics have always been intelligent and deep, and his delivery was sincere and true to each song's original intent.

A crowd of 1,500 fans singing along to "Brave"

Oh – and if you manage to see Marillion on stage, ask H to sing the Cat Stevens song. It starts…

Morning has broken
Like the first morning
I'm in a jail cell
In Bangor Maine…

Click here to see our review of Marbles

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