Marillion, October 23rd, 2001
ColumbiaFritz, Berlin, Germany


By
Andreas Vogel


No goblins! No self-indulgent epics! And no Fish, please! For quite some time now, Marillion have strived to get rid from that annoying label which says 'progressive'; they have desperately tried to break the cumbersome borders that they felt other people fenced them in with. Attempting to recruit a new, a wider fan community, the band took the risk of confusing and offending their most faithful followers - as a blunt and embarrassingly self-centred communication policy that involves the total denial of the band's roots and history is certainly hard to digest. However, by virtue of the exceptionally strong bond Hogarth and company have established with their supporters, they could easily afford taking that risk. From the very beginning of the production of 'Anoraknophobia', fans were deeply involved; their input became a crucial factor to the whole process. While this alone inspired a great deal of loyalty on their part, most fans couldn't help but acknowledging how intriguingly brilliant the band's new effort was - an honest piece of work, full of fresh vigour, which had the sadly missed Marillion magic resurface in full splendour. The boys had indeed succeeded in connecting up to the most contemporary lines of music in a most convincing way, while at the same time they remained true to themselves, displaying and developing their musical mastery in their own unique manner and style.

Well, to create something new which is still something of your own is a process that many people would call 'progressive', in the literal sense of the word. And it is probably this fact that serves as a source of confusion, for in the eyes of 'outsiders' (and of Marillion) the scene labelled 'progressive rock' bears the paradoxical badge of being out-dated, narrow-minded and deadlocked in rigid values. While the genre is certainly much more alive than Marillion think, one cannot blame them if they put out their feelers to reach listeners whose lives do deserve, but still lack, a certain amount of Marillion music. And they are lucky to be able to count on their devotees to reach that goal. (more on that later…)

As for the current tour, the close ties between the band and their admirers yet again proved valuable for the benefit of all. When Marillion set out on their 'Anoraknophobia' tour in May, the first reactions reflected a general disappointment: for some obscure reason, the band left out the songs that many of the fans had been waiting for most eagerly, i.e. This is the 21st Century and When I meet God. So, before they embarked on the second leg of the tour, the group took the wise decision to ask their fans first about their preferences. This setlist poll produced results that were not exactly surprising: the five most-wanted songs were This is the 21st Century, Afraid of Sunlight, This Strange Engine, When I meet God, and the inevitable Easter. Among the most unpopular titles, on the other hand, were straight rock songs like Hooks in you and Paper Lies, and also unusual but fine pieces such as Hope for the Future and Cannibal Surf Babe. Marillion took these lists into account, and the autumn concerts consequently turned very satisfactory, setlist-wise.

Berlin's ColumbiaFritz is a venue that is situated right next to Columbiahalle, which is the larger place of the two, and which Marillion had played in former times. But this night, Columbiahalle was occupied by some German schmaltz pop band, and a huge lot of people stood waiting before its entrance, while the crowd next door was hardly large enough to deserve the name 'crowd'. What's more, again and again some alleged Marillion fans realized that they had been waiting in front of the wrong doors - they left helter-skelter to melt with the neighbouring pop crowd. Observing this, misgivings concerning the musical world as a whole inevitably crept up on me. But luckily, things changed. As soon as the doors had opened and the first few Marillion addicts had seized upon their places, people kept coming in until the hall was filled down to the last spot. In consequence, the air quality got worse rapidly as the less thoughtful started to smoke. Some things will never change. Damn it.

Being full of people, however, the hall didn't seem so small anymore, and a collective anticipation spread among the audience. But before the main act, the custom has it that a support act is given the opportunity to exhibit their talents. This time, it was White Buffalo's turn, a fairly unknown British band around singer-songwriter Phil Campbell, whose equally undiscovered 1997 debut album 'Fresh New Life' was recorded with none other than Dave Meegan, shortly after he had done Brave with Marillion. Knowing this, one wouldn't expect bad music. And there was none. White Buffalo played an impressive set which sported driving guitar rock pieces alongside vocal-led keyboard tunes and even a piano ballad with mouth organ accompaniment. While the lyrics seemed a bit mediocre at times, the musical diversity, which continued within the individual songs, brought about the approval of the people: the band won enthusiastic applause, in particular for the haunting "Love me tonight", which highlighted the truly outstanding vocal capabilities of front man Campbell. What added to the performance's favourable impression was the amiable clumsiness with which the bass player (who was impressive to look at, by the way) tried to articulate a few German announcements.
It is a shame, however, that White Buffalo are yet un-signed. They should definitely be kept an eye on, and hopefully their self-financed, soon-to-be-released second album 'Waiting to go home' will help to augment their success.


It took a painfully long while before Marillion finally entered the stage. Without much ado, Hogarth approached his microphone, and from the speakers came the words that caused an immediate surge of adrenaline with probably everybody in the hall: 'There was a boy who came into this world…' The band launched into a fine rendition of This Strange Engine, and it was sheer pleasure to listen to, although you could sometimes tell from Hogarth's voice that he had gone through the strains of eighteen concerts before, but these little breaks, cracks and trembles didn't actually make much difference. Steve Rothery, our massive friend, came to shine in the first of countless moments of gorgeous guitar playing, while Pete Trewavas jumped about the stage like he always does. But his actions, and his playing, were followed more closely this time, as his great musical contribution to the new album as well as his involvement with the celebrated 'Transatlantic' super group have focussed attention on the little fellow on the bass. And it appears that he is (and probably has always been) a hell of a bass player: gifted, tasteful, and creative.
No other song verifies this more evidently than Quartz. Here, Trewavas' bass line rules from the start, and here, too, we have the strongest example for the daring new approach the band takes. A modern sound, but far from seeming artificial, incorporated into an eventful song structure, and intertwined with enthralling melodic outbursts that only Marillion can produce.

Aptly dressed in an anorak, Hogarth greeted the crowd: "Hallo Berlin! It's been a while, eh?". Indeed, almost two years had passed since Marillion's last visit. Back then, they were presenting their album 'marillion.com', two songs of which, Go! and Rich, were also regular elements during the first leg of the 'Anoraknophobia' tour. Now, they dropped these titles in favour of material from 'Holidays in Eden'. But before that, the band gave their audience a musical delight called When I meet God. Although rather quiet, this piece doubtlessly ranks among the most exciting and gripping songs Marillion have composed in a long time. Kelly's keyboards mould a texture of serene beauty for Hogarth's fragile singing to wallow in, and as bass and drums are added, the song drives and flows from one emotive surge to the next. It is my humble opinion that When I meet God is the most excellent composition on 'Anoraknophobia'. During the performance, however, it seemed that the spooky voice sample was triggered a little late, so it was a bit out of pace - but let's take that as artistic freedom.
The renditions of This Town and 100 Nights, framing the atmospheric The Rakes Progress made one realize how good indeed the now ten-year-old 'Holidays in Eden' album is and how much of the essence of the Hogarth-led Marillion was already apparent then.

The 'Brave' section commenced with Goodbye to all that and led on to the hard rocking Wave bit, the bridge between the two being this roaring and swelling keyboard part that makes one's whole body vibrate with the growling bass. Hogarth's performance contributed vastly to the effect of the music: all through the concert, he was the centre of attraction, a glittering, charismatic core figure. He didn't as much sing the songs as he was living them. There was no idea in the lyrics that he did not illustrate by some weird gesture or facial expression; his arms were constantly on the move, he frantically whirled about the stage and got into a tremendous sweat. By the way, did anybody miss Fish? Whoops, I said the forbidden word!
But while we're on the subject, it is apparent that the shows are increasingly devoid of any material of the pre-Hogarth era. While the occasional Sugar Mice titbit still comes as a nice surprise, the Hogarth repertoire is strong enough (and, even more important, the fans' nostalgia is weak enough) to allow h-only sets. At last.


Afraid of Sunlight was the next song, and it was a killer. Its fantastic hook line did not fail to stir up boundless enthusiasm with the crowd. Hogarth overexerted himself to such an extent, that with the very last line 'So how do we now come to be?', his voice broke, and he uttered only a sigh. He got thundering applause anyway, and the boys went on to perform another 'Afraid of Sunlight' gem, the magnificent Out of this World. Kelly - cool and deadpan, but masterly at all times - created thick floating carpets of synth that truly spawned an out-of-this-world experience. Which properly set the scene for This is the 21st Century, the fan favourite that the band had included in preference to the first leg's If my Heart were a Ball… (sadly, The Fruit of the Wild Rose was dropped as well). As Marillion fans seem to have a soft spot for emotion, this is clearly the better choice. And for those who like it a little more rough and tough, we have the groovy outro of the song that pounds along diabolically, with Ian Mosley replacing the computer drums by his energetic playing. Alas, Rothery's 'voice' sounded a bit dim in the mix.

Then, it was pop time. The band did Map of the World, one of the two songs they had put on a single which is exclusively available at marillion.com. It is part of Marillion's revolutionary strategy to gain a new audience, as Hogarth explained, for with every single, they give away a free copy which the purchaser is kindly requested to send to local radio stations. As clever as this plan is, I reckon that not every fan feels too enthusiastic about the idea to distribute songs which are not necessarily among Marillion's most representative material, and which are slimmed down and deprived of their more interesting parts in order to conform to the taste (?) and demand of radio stations. But on the other hand, this is the 21st century, and that's the way it goes. Marillion have to use the channels that are there to attract a few people's attention and make some of them explore what's behind the name Marillion. As long as they continue to progress the way the used to, and not regress down to some easy listening radio band, that's fine with me.

As Hogarth said "We'd like to leave you with this song.", everybody knew that King would be played, the reliable set closer that the band have used for many years now. And it still works. This time, however, with some delay. After the intro, when Hogarth was supposed to sing the opening lines, his place was deserted. The band looked around, looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders. Mark Kelly discovered Hogarth at the side of the stage; he had hurt his leg, probably while jumping. Kelly surprised the audience as he knew the German word for 'lower leg' - how the heck…? But Hogarth was back, and the band continued with full power. The crowd got so excited that the band ran into difficulties as they tried to calm down the hecklers during the quiet 'Message of Love' part of the song. The stomping finale hit the hall like a bombshell, and the band left their numbed audience for a while.

Then they reappeared and played the marvellous The Great Escape, and when they had disappeared and reappeared once again, it didn't take a second to guess from Rothery's acoustic guitar that Easter was to be performed next.
The crowd went crazy before the band had even started. Pete exclaimed "Settle down!", without much success. Hogarth tried to set up some rules like "When I talk, you shut up.", but just when he was about to announce the song, as the crowd had indeed calmed down a bit, Rothery couldn't stand the wait and simply started striking his chords. Hogarth got ready to sing, but as the audience drowned out his words with their own singing, he smiled and retreated from the microphone.
When the time for Rothery's adored guitar solo came, the fans greeted it with such a thundering applause that it was practically not audible. The funny thing was that after the audience had somewhat reduced their noise, it was still not audible! Rothery stopped playing, looked at his instrument, baffled and perplexed. He found himself un-plugged! Hogarth took the opportunity to introduce Rothery's guitar technician, who rushed onto the stage, cable in his hand, and hastily fiddled around with the plugs. Rothery attempted to take up his solo mid-way, but his guitar still refused to work. His technician hurried to fix some device on the right of the stage, the guitar eventually started to work, but Hogarth preferred to stop the mess: "Let's do that one again.". So they set off for a second time, and there he was, Steve Rothery, in the spotlight, swaying back and forth, a complacent smile on his lips, playing his divine solo.

The hall was seething with excitement, and the band's last song, Between you and me, continued on a cheerful, rocking level - a powerful conclusion to a well-balanced concert that displayed the whole range of Marillion's musical mastery. It cannot be denied that they are one of the best bands around. And it cannot be denied either that they are severely underrepresented in the musical world today. But if their high-flown plans succeed (before they are too old, that is), they're not going to have to choose between ColumbiaFritz and Columbiahalle anymore. According to their potential, they're going to play stadiums instead. Remains the question whether that is really desirable.

Setlist

This Strange Engine
Quartz
When I meet God
This Town/The Rakes Progress/100 Nights
Goodbye to all that/Wave/Mad
Afraid of Sunlight
Out of this World
This is the 21st Century
Map of the World
King

The Great Escape/The Last of You/Falling from the Moon

Easter
Between you and me

All photos © Bart Jan van der Vorst, for DPRP 2001

 

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