Manchester Academy – Manchester, UK – 8 November 2017
Last year I saw Marillion live for the first time since the eighties. Verdict on that show in the band’s largest headlining Manchester show since their successful commercial period was a resounding success. That gig was to promote the band’s latest album, Fuck Everyone and Run (F E A R), now the band’s most successful album in recent times and certainly since Steve Hogarth took over the central vocalist role. I was curious to see in a year where the band hit some huge highs, including playing London’s esteemed Royal Albert Hall, if they would change their setlist. Being the band’s last show of 2017, I did expect some surprises.
Similar stage setup from their last Academy headliner, it seemed that the film visuals had been changed for some individual songs. I had expected another complete run through of the album itself.
Serving up the El Dorado series of tracks at the start of the set was as expected. Instantly it became clear to me that the Marillion audience had now grown more accustomed to the new songs and were now embracing them more as familiar friends. The level of response and visible emotion that was registering on the faces of the fans around me were much more comfortable than they had been on their last airing in the same venue. Fifteen minutes passed before Steve greeted the Manchester audience for the first time. No time for conversation as the band launched into a nod from their past with a rousing version of their classic “Slàinte Mhath”. I commented last time that the connection between the band and their audience is hard to describe. Emotive and passionate, it truly symbolizes much more than any other rock music audience that I have ever seen…I have seen quite a few in my time over the years.
While dipping, albeit in large chunks, to their new “hit album”, it was the rest of the song selection which was served up nearly like a fan convention setlist. “The Uninvited Guest” was actually my first introduction to the new Marillion way back in 1989 from their Seasons End album. I also recall a particular eerie video for that single. Short tracks like “Wave” and “Mad” were warmly greeted by the diehards and, although neither were instantly recognizable to myself, actually prompted me to check out more of the band’s back catalogue. Both numbers were brief musical voyages from the band’s Brave offering.
“Afraid of Sunlight” and musically I was personally back on more familiar territory. Quite simply a beautiful song which showcase Hogarth’s unique vocal talents. It is not to say that he is a shining light in a band of sidemen. Quite the opposite, in that all components of the band are exemplary talented musicians that all play a part, and equally capable of delivering both power and passion as required by the demands of the music that they deliver. “Beyond You” was another track from the same album – this was another that was particularly new to me. It was definitely a song that left an indelible mark. Quite a stunning musical masterpiece. I stated in my last Manchester review that Hogarth is a charismatic force of nature – engaging, theatrical, and passionate, always dramatic and in the face of the audience while the rest of Marillion are content to let him perform that role.
“Real Tears for Sale” was a new track to me – it was, as I have said previously, a mixed setlist. However, one thing about Marillion shows is that whatever the era of song, and if you know it or not, they can still all effectively engage the listeners. This track was accompanied by a particular series of stark visuals involving Sinead O’Connor which was obviously a comment on her current mental health battles that she is still struggling with. Truly food for thought in raising awareness of mental health issues that each one of us can fall victim to.
The band then returned to the F.E.A.R. album with their hit single “Living in Fear”, which again generated a huge audience sing along which certainly raised the roof several inches. Hogarth at times seemed extremely emotive when viewing the audience reaction, clearly it had visibly moved him with their passion and their very strong vocal responses. Segueing then into an older “Heart Of Lothian”, the transition appeared sublimely smooth.
Returning to “The Leavers” section of tunes from their F.E.A.R. album, it was time to again for some stunning visual backdrop images and subtle lighting as the band themselves prepared to bring the main part of the set to a close.
Encore time then served up a quite varied selection of songs from the first encore’s “This Strange Engine” – quite a lengthy piece (heavily edited from the albums 30+minute version). The commercial hits of another era with “Garden Party” and “Market Square Heroes” followed in second encore, before this evening’s entertainment finally ended with “Three Minute Boy” from Marillion‘s Radiation album. I said that their last Manchester concert was up there with the best concerts that I have ever seen; this second viewing of the band was certainly on a par with that showing and performance.As I left the venue the fans singing of the final song started to filter out into the surrounding Manchester streets.My conclusion was that once again the band had delivered a night of sublime quality and entertainment.
All photos © John Gilleese