with Lords of the Backstage and Gazpacho
Thursday February 1st, 2007
De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
The fourth Marillion convention was to be held in The Netherlands for a change. Some 3000 fans were to travel to a sold-out Centreparcs holiday camp in the province of Zeeland in the Southern region of the country.
The night before de Boerderij in Zoetermeer had organised a little pre-convention party for fans to get in the mood. An interesting line-up with Dutch Marillion tribute band Lords of The Backstage and Norwegian Marillion support regulars Gazpacho. For the latter is was to be their first overseas headlining gig ever, for the former only their second gig ever.
For me personally the gig was especially thrilling as I had helped organising it - my first ventures into concert booking.
The ticket pre-sales had been less than enthralling and I feared the band would be playing for only a handful of people. I even went as far as forcing, err, convincing some of my friends to come the gig in order to get some more attencance. I need not have worried. While far from sold-out there were about 200 people present, which was enough to fill the floor of the venue and create a nice atmosphere.
And the friends that I had brought? They were pleasantly surprised by the gig and bought some CDs on the spot!
Lords Of The Backstage
Dutch Marillion tribute band Lords of the Backstage kicked off precedings a little after eight o'clock. Starting with the almost obligatory Rossini's "La Gazza Ladra", the band launched into a fine version of Slainte Mhath.
I was impressed by the good and full sound of the band. They clearly had gone to great length to recreate the sound of Marillion.
Unfortunately the band hadn't been able to focus as much on the music of Marillion. This was only their second gig together, and it showed. Both the keyboardplayer and guitarplayer made many errors, and the bassplayer looked (and sounded) as if he was in a completely different band.
Singer Rich Harding (who has the dubious honour being the lead singer in three different Marillion tribute bands in three different countries) was the obvious focal point of the band. He is a charismatic performer and his voice occassionally has a hint of Fish' voice in it. Ironically he sounded a lot better when he did not try to sing like Fish but when he sang in his own voice.
The choice of setlist was so-so. What should have been a great party, turned into a somewhat overlong nostalgia trip without many real surprises. The only songs that came across well were Incubus (you can't fault that ending) and their final song The Last Straw, in which Rich Harding interestingly sang both lead and backing vocals.
In all Lords Of The Backstage were a bit of a disappointment. They failed to build a great atmosphere. The band just isn't quite there yet to play a stage the size of de Boerderij. Or perhaps Marillion's music simply isn't meant to be played by another band.
La Gazza Ladra (intro tape)
Script for a Jester's Tear
Punch & Judy
Warm Wet Circles
The Last Straw
After a short change-over of the stage Gazpacho took the stage, starting with the opening track of their previous album Firebird, the broodling Vulture. It is one of their greatest tracks, which incorporates all of Gazpacho's trademarks: a slow, mellow opening with synthesisers and haunting violin, turning into a rock track halfway.
After a short introduction by Jan Henrik Ohme came the next track, Desert. The band recently reworked this into some sort of Salsa version, yet at the last moment they decided to opt for the original version anyway.
I've seen the band perform this song several times, but it never really worked. Mind you, I don't like the studio version much either and while Robert Johanssen's heavy metal drumming adds enough bite to the song to make the live version far more interesting than the studio version, the song with all its different melodies simply does not work.
A song that does work live was Orion part I, which they played next. I was somewhat surprised by the abrupt ending, where normally Orion part II would start. As it turned out the band had shortened most of their songs, seeing that they would only get 45 minutes to play at the Marillion convention, and with over 20 minutes of the new album to showcase, they tried to shorten the other songs in order to squeeze in as many in their set as possible. So as a result songs like Orion and Ghost were shortened, and even Bravo missed the Irish fiddle ending that turned the track into such a great live track during the last tour with Marillion.
So the band played a rather lean set, yet the gig wasn't 'too' short. This was one of those gigs where the length of the set was "just right" despite being only an hour and a half long. This being a Thursday it meant people had to work the next day, so they couldn't have continued all night long anyway.
Fortunately they also played a couple of 'long ones'. Do You Know What You Are Saying for example, which was played in the full six and a half minute version. Jon Vilbo nailed the solo (played by one Steve Rothery on the album) perfectly, to great cheers of the audience.
I was pleased to see that one of my personal live favourites Mesmer had returned to the set as well. The band's heaviest track to date is a great live track and really benefits from the live setting (with drummer Robert Johanssen substituting for the drum computer of the original studio version).
Actually, it is not just Mesmer that sounds a bit heavier when played live. Pretty much all their songs really benefit from a live setting. The drums of Johanssen make that most songs sound heavier than their studio versions, and the addition of Mikael Krømer's on most tracks give the songs a richer and fuller sound. It was a pity that the band's seventh member, flutist and second guitarist Kristian 'The Duke' Skedsmo, was not able to travel to Holland with the band this time, but Krømer filled part of his role by playing a tuned-down mandolin in some of the songs that required an extra guitar.
Amongst the songs that required some mandolin were the songs played from the band's new album Night, which has a monotonous guitarstrumming going all through the 53-minute album - all played live by Krømer on his tiny 'guitar'.
Tonight's gig served as a launch-party for the new album as well, as it was for sale for the first time tonight (albeit in limited numbers).
The band had wisely decided that playing the entire new album Night would have been a bit too much for an unexpecting audience, so instead they had created a 22-minute melody comprising of part of Dream Of Stone, all of Chequered Light Buildings, a large chunk of Upside Down and all of Valerie's Friend.
The new material went down like a storm. The massive ending of Valerie's Friend was a perfect set-closer and the small audience did their best to shout loud enough to get the band back to play some encores.
And the band duly did. First the emotional Snowman, from their second album When Earth Lets Go. It was followed by "the song we also play when we are in Holland, because people think this is the song we should play whenever we are in Holland" was the weird introduction by Ohme. Of course he was talking about the title track of their debut album Bravo (unfortunately without the Irish fiddle bit at the end).
Yet another track of the same album, The Secret, proved a worthy set closer. This is one of those songs which is re-arranged for the live version, with a different opening, and a great extended ending with a violin solo, keyboard solo, and even a drum solo!
I couldn't help but walking around with a huge smile on my face the rest of the night. My initial worries proved unfounded, as the gig was a great success and the crowd reaction was phenomenal. Seeing that the band sold out their entire stock of their new album underlined this fact.
A great thing about Gazpacho's live performance is that they often change their songs a bit from the studio versions. For one, they sound a lot heavier (largely due to the contribution of hard hitting Robert Johanssen) and secondly because they often add a different intro or ending, or sometimes even the whole arrangement of the song.
The band hadn't played live in more than a year, but they managed to pull off the gig perfectly. Let's hope it doesn't take another year for them to come back to Holland.
Do You Know What You Are Saying?
Sea Of Tranquility
Substitute For Murder
Dream Of Stone
Chequered Light Buildings
"Do You Know What You Are Saying" | video by Corné Brenters