Sunday, 21 July 2013

Gig review - Marillion Weekend (UK) 2013 - Friday Night

So here I am once more...(Hmmm, I feel a song coming on!) Yes, it's been a while since I've blogged, sorry about that. And even more sorry about this - what was originally conceived as part of a full review of Marillion's UK convention held in Wolverhampton in April of this year (to have been published in May...) has been reduced to this single post covering the first night only. Guess you could see this as my equivalent of the Eagles' The Long Run (originally touted as a brilliant double album to be released in 1978, that finally emerged a year later as a distinctly underwhelming single album).Oh well, life and other associated paraphernalia get in the way from time to time, don't they? At least I'm not too likely to break up on the subsequent tour! Anyway, on with the review...

At a Marillion weekend it's traditional to begin with 'album night' on a Friday and that held true for 2013, though unlike previous weekends, which have featured quite a diverse range of themes, this time around every night was album night. Friday belonged to Radiation (or Radiat10n as it’s spelt on the album cover - and on *somebody’s* user name on most internet forums – on account of it being the band’s 10th studio effort), widely regarded as one of the band’s weaker releases. Whether this is fair is subject to debate - personally I feel it does rank towards the bottom of the Marillion catalogue, but is by no means a poor album (they only have one of those, if you ask me – what do you mean you didn’t?! - and even that’s only true if you consider Less is More to be a ‘proper’ album in the first place). 

One thing Radiation certainly has in its favour is its unusally high quotient (by Marillion standards, at least!) of rockier numbers, so Under the Sun (see below) and the unfairly-maligned Answering Machine certainly kicked things off with a bang. Fan favourite (even amongst those who don’t care for the album as a whole) Three Minute Boy was up next, and by now the party was in full flow. The fans ambushed the band with a mid-song ‘3 minute scream’ when it was played in 2011, so this time they were expecting it and didn’t let it go on toooooo long, but it was still a fun moment.

Before the convention I’d worried that the three consecutive slow numbers that follow (Now She’ll Never Know, These Chains and Born to Run) would prove to be both atmosphere and momentum-killers, but this wasn’t the case. Now She’ll Never Know became the first number of the evening to get the eyes turning all watery on me (and h's seemingly effortless switches in and out of falsetto were simply breathtaking), These Chains is one of those songs that turns out to be far more powerful live, and after being trotted out at two consecutive convention seasons, I have to say that Born to Run has really grown on me, though it will never be a contender for a spot in my 'favourite 100 Marillion songs' list. 

Nonetheless the killer intro of Cathedral Wall came at just the right time to pick the energy up again, although in truth it’s not exactly a fast song either, though it is ‘heavy’. Both it and album closer A Few Words for the Dead are certainly amongst the album’s highlights and the ‘or you could love’ section of the latter provided one of the surprises of the night, as, seemingly from nowhere, large-stemmed flowers appeared in the hands of fans throughout the hall. Knowing the event was being filmed (more on the DVD release a bit later) some brightly-coloured attire, sunglasses and suchlike had been suggested as the dress code (you know, to ‘sort of’ reflect the radiation theme). Sensible folk like myself ignored this (and maybe even suspected a certain group of fans of trying to impose their own unique fashion sense onto the rest of us for the evening!), but the flowers were a genuinely nice touch, of the sort that Marilloin fans do specialise in, it has to be said – and the band later confirmed they had no idea that it was coming. Nor did I - I'd missed that particular fan memo!

Radiation has recently been re-mixed and re-released, and the new mix from Michael Hunter has converted a number of fans who particularly disliked the original ‘rough’ feel the album was given. Personally I’m not wildly keen about revisions after the fact, and I figure the live recording of this show is the only alternative version I need. And you thought I was a total obsessive/completist, you don’t know me at all really, do you? :P

Friday nights have traditionally been seen as something of a warm-up night in the past, with only  a handful of extra tracks played in addition to the main attraction of the full album concept. This time around, though, after a brief intermission the band returned for a set that threatened to overshadow Radiation as they performed a scattershot selection of tracks from all over the decades, ranging from recentish classics such as Genie and Somewhere Else, to early h-era singles Hooks in You and Cover My Eyes (both of which should have been smashes, rather than the moderate hits they actually were). The latter segued neatly into Slainte Mhath, the first Fish-era song of the night. In Port Zelande this year h had surprised everybody by toasting Fish at the song’s conclusion – this time the toast was perhaps less spontaneous (but surely no less heartfelt) and came mid-song, fittingly before the line about ‘raising the standard Drambuie’, which I’m sure the big man would appreciate! Not many years ago, that would have been precisely that as far as Fishy material went, but of late the band as a whole have seemed a bit more relaxed about playing the early stuff (though still never very much of it at once, possibly as it seems to make h suicidal, or something...) and so Slainte was followed by Lavender and Heart of Lothian. Capping even that was the appearance of Script for a Jester’s Tear as the first encore. I’d describe how brilliant a performance they gave of this, but why bother when you can just watch it...

As I mentioned earlier the gig was filmed and a mere ten and a half hours later (note this time is from the start, not the end, of the show!) it was available to buy as a 2DVD/3CD package (from which Under the Sun and Script have been released to YouTube for promotional purposes, hence the handy links to them above!), regaining the band their world record for fastest turnaround between the recording and release of a live DVD. Obviously it's warts 'n' all, but the band prove, beyond any measure of doubt, that where they're concerned there simply aren't that many warts in the first place.

With the first 50 for sale signed by the band some of the band’s craziest fans (we’re all crazy, but to varying degrees, you understand) queued from 5.30am to secure their copies. I've no idea how long fan number 51 queued for, but I hope they weren’t too disappointed to miss out! Personally I was happy enough to wait and buy a (guaranteed unsigned) copy after that evening’s gig.

And what a gig that would turn out to be. I'd love to tell you about it (and Stillmarillion, and the Sounds That Can't Be Made gig on the Sunday, about those ovations and that climb into the balcony and all the time spent with the other mad and ovely fans, and much more besides) but I'm not gonna. Who knows, maybe I'll make up for it with a full review of Montreal 2015 in less than two years time? Go on, hold your breath! ;-)