Marillion
Marbles Tour 2004

May 2nd, 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands
May 3rd, Vredenburg, Utrecht, The Netherlands
May 4th, Ijsselhallen, Zwolle, The Netherlands

By Bart Jan van der Vorst
Photos © Jeroen Bos


Three Days Playing Marbles

It has been a very long time since I last followed Marillion (or any band) around the country during their tour. While it is still common for me to visit a band more than once during a tour, following a band for three consecutive concerts in three consecutive days (with a fourth one coming up in a few weeks time) is rather uncommon in my current, busy, steady-job-with-a-bit-of-social-life-on-the-side lifestyle.
The fact that my friends of Gazpacho are supporting Marillion during their European tour naturally had something to do with it to. I've been following that band from the beginning and I definitely wanted to be there for the first couple of gigs of their first ever tour.

Sunday

After a 'production rehearsal' and a warm-up gig in their home-turf Aylesbury, this was the first gig of the tour proper. The 013 is one of the finest venues of the country, with a great view and excellent sound from any position in the venue - after all, the venue is custom built for rock-concerts.
Unfortunately, the 013 is also known for its notorious lack of atmosphere, and unfortunately, tonight's gig proved to be no exception. At 7.30, with the houselights still on and the venue less than half-filled, Gazpacho walked onstage. I had a bit of a déjà vu feeling, as last year during the Convention Weekend, Gazpacho was also opening and also had to start playing while the venue was less than half-full. Jan-Henrik Ohme, Gazpacho - Photo ©Jeroen Bos

Despite the hectic schedule of the first day of the tour had left them hardly any room to do a soundcheck, the band did pretty good. I for one liked their setlist, which included three songs from their excellent new album When Earth Lets Go.
Their new drummer, Robert, is a beast behind the kit and he was hitting the drums so hard that his kit started moving around the stage and a roadie actually had to duct-tape it to the ground.

For their live band Gazpacho had also taken two extra musicians along on the road: one for backing vocals, acoustic guitar and flute, and the other one for additional guitar and *that* violin solo in Bravo.
These guys had also been with them at the Convention last year, where they had only been brought onstage for Bravo, it was a good decision to let them play some guitar as well, as the music really benefited from it.

The sound wasn't particularly good, especially during the first couple of songs, but even so the band got a good reception and well-deserved applause. The new material also seemed to fare very well, especially album opener Snowman which is just a massive song live.
To me they were the best support band I'd ever seen with Marillion, but perhaps I'm a little biased...

It took the crew a good half hour to clear the stage and set it up for Marillion, after which they spent another 15 minutes checking instruments and microphones. It was clear that this was the first gig of the tour and the crew was still getting used to the equipment.
The music that was played during the break was quite interesting. It was all mixed with radio noise, quite like the intro to Angelina on their new album. The music was pretty much a mood creator for the Marbles material that was to follow, and clearly have been influences during the writing and recording of the new album.
It was nicely done, though at times the radio noise went on for minutes.

Just after nine o'clock the radio noise became louder and louder, the lights were turned off and the band came onstage with the start of The Invisible Man being played from a backing tape.
Steve Hogarth came onstage wearing a business suit, complete with tie and reading glasses. He really gave a stellar performance during The Invisible Man, reminding me of his performance of the Brave shows.
It struck me how well The Invisible Man sounded. In my opinion the studio version is rather tame and too much of a cut&paste production. Though live the music really came to live and all instruments and vocals just sounded so much better without weird production tricks and distortion. If only they'd put this version on their album, then it would have been my favourite track by now.

Steve Hogarth during The Invisible Man -- Photo © Jeroen Bos

The band had decided to try something new this year and play two sets during their gigs. The first set was an hour of just new music, consisting of the entire single disc edition of the Marbles album (in my opinion the superior running order of the tracks), with the exception of Drilling Holes, which was exchanged for the somewhat rockier The Damage.

The band had also brought along a larger lightshow than in recent years. On the sides and the back of the stage stood several rectangular 'boxes' filled with little LEDs, which could change into various colours and even show shapes.
Above the stage hung a large screen on which images were projected. Unfortunately this was hardly used in an effective way. During some of the songs they showed some (very few) slides of the various images from the CD booklet and every once in a while it showed the band playing onstage, from an unusual angle from the back of the stage. The only one time (IMO) that the screen is used effectively is during You're Gone, when it shows very abstract shapes moving and changing colour (not unlike the screensavers that come with your Windows Mediaplayer, to be honest).

Mark Kelley -- Photo ©Jeroen Bos Highlights of the Marbles set were the two epics that can be found on the (single edition) album: The Invisible Man and Neverland. The latter works really well live, despite the second half being stretched for a bit too long. An eye opener for me was Fantastic Place which had a lot more power in its live version. I find the production of Marbles rather tame and unexciting, so some of the songs were definitely a relief to hear in their live versions.
The Marbles sections seemed to fare less well live, and were more of some kind of intermissions. Angelina was another track that disappointed somewhat live, as it misses the power and bite to become a real live favourite.

The hour long Marbles set seemed to be received pretty well by the audience, although two guys standing next to me were getting a bit impatient, "aren't they going to play *anything* familiar?" they wondered in despair. After all it was the day before Marbles would be released officially, and not everybody has forked out the money for the pre-order.

After a (very) short break the band came back for a second set. It started with a beautiful and spine-tingling rendition of Beyond You. This was definitely the highlight of the gig for me, as it is one of my favourite Marillion compositions - hearing this song can make me cry.
After this they played the little ditty Costa Del Slough, not performed since the fanclub concerts preceding the release of Radiation, which segued into Under The Sun, just like on the album. In my opinion this is one of the worst songs the band has ever recorded, as it lacks any form of melody at all, and this live version was probably one of its most chaotic performances as well. Seeing that it has dropped from the setlist since, makes me feel the band agrees with me on that part.

They continued with Cannibal Surf Babe -hardly a crowd pleaser either- before moving on to the excellent Quartz. As the band had played an hour's worth of unknown material, followed by a good 18 minutes songs that are hardly crowd-pleasers (I know I'm a minority in my liking of Beyond You), you could imagine the relief that came with Quartz for some of the members of the audience that do not necessarily belong to the hardcore fans.

The band then proceeded with a couple of songs that have not been in the set since 1996's Made Again tour: Bridge, followed by Living With The Big Lie. Unfortunately for the people who had been waiting for some of the older stuff, this were the oldest tracks played that night. Between You And Me finished the second set and left the audience with noticeable mixed feelings.

Steve Hogarth -- Photo ©Jeroen Bos The band soon came back for their encore in the form of This Is The 21st Century. An excellent song, though somehow it never seems to work live, and definitely not as an encore, as it drags on for way to long with anything happening. I mean, Ian Mosley plays exactly four bars on it and that is the whole 'climax'.
After leaving the stage the band came back for one final encore, another track from Brave. Once again it was nice of them to play a song they hadn't played in a while, but this isn't what you call going out with a bang either.

I was really disappointed in the second set, which had started so great and emotional with one of my favourite tracks. While I definitely commend the band on choosing songs they have not been playing much recently, none of these are work particularly well live.
And also, with three songs from both Anoraknophobia and Brave, and two songs each from Radiation and Afraid of Sunlight, the band has ignored a staggering total of eight albums from their back-catalogue this tour. While I don't expect them to regularly play any pre-89 songs on tour these days, I can't see why they would completely ignore Season's End, Holidays in Eden, or if those albums sound too dated, what about more recent albums like This Strange Engine and Marillion.com?

The performance wasn't what you call top-notch either. I particularly like seeing the first or the last date of a tour. The first date is always special because for one Hogarth's voice hasn't suffered yet from two months gigging, and indeed his voice was marvellous all Steve Hogarth during The Damage -- Photo ©Jeroen Bosthrough. The second advantage of a first gig is that almost always the set is too long, and some songs get axed later in the tour. In this case this dubious honour fell to Costa Del Slough and Under The Sun.
However, the downside of a first gig of the tour is that the band haven't yet fully played themselves in, and there were a few noticeable mistakes during the show. The band is also using an in-ear monitoring system for the first time, and they seemed to have some problems with it. An added disadvantage of in-ear monitors is that the band can't actually hear the audience whilst onstage, hence the interaction with the audience is rather limited. (in an atmosphere-less venue like 013, this can ruin a gig)

I spoke to Pete Trewavas after the gig and he told me that they had been a bit nervous today, this being the first gig of the tour and all. It struck me as rather odd that a band with so much experience can still feel nervous but it only goes to show that they are real people after all...

Monday

Chapter two: Utrecht. The Vredenburg is probably the opposite of the 013 when it comes to atmosphere. A Marillion gig is almost always a party here and in the five gigs that I've seen Marillion play in Vredenburg I can only remember one gig where the vibe wasn't as it should have been, but all other gigs here have been absolutely brilliant.

The day started for me with a pleasant interview with Ian Mosley, with whom I chatted a bit about last night's gig and their choice of setlist. He agreed with me that the set wasn't flowing particularly well yet, but he also emphasised that these songs had actually been chosen by the fans in an online poll. They had looked at their setlists from the past five years and noted that they played the same songs over and over again, so it was time for a radically different setlist.
As it turned out, the set had changed slightly tonight, but it still didn't flow particularly well, but more on that later. Roy Funner, Gazpacho -- Photo ©Jeroen Bos

Gazpacho had had a proper soundcheck today and they seemed a lot more confident with their set today, even though they had been asked to shorten their set to only 30 minutes. They also started 30 minutes later than the day before, so that they could at least play to a properly filled venue.
As I had brought my brother-in-law along, who was taking the beautiful photos which you see in this review, I was standing directly at the front of the stage. Now the one shortcoming of this otherwise perfect venue is that towards the front of the stage the sound is rather poor, due to the extreme width and height of the hall. In the case of Gazpacho this meant that I could not hear much of Jon's guitars and that the music I did hear was dominated by the sound of Robert's hard-hitting drums, coming from the stage, rather than the speakers above me.

Despite their shortened set Gazpacho played very well and got an excellent reception, much better than last night's it seemed. Everywhere around me I saw people cheering and applauding for their music. I'm sure they gained a few more fans that night.

The altering of the stage went a lot quicker than last night, and less than twenty minutes after Gazpacho had cleared the stage, Marillion came on. The first set was exactly the same as last night and it struck me once more how powerful the new stuff sounds live, when you compare it to their studio versions.
I don't particularly like Marbles - YET! - though hearing the album live certainly has improved my opinion about the album. The band also played tighter than yesterday and apart from H giggling through Marbles III (actually, the same thing happened yesterday)

An interesting aspect of the lightshow during the Marbles set is that it starts with very 'cold' colours, from greens and blues during The Invisible Man and blues and white during You're Gone, to beautiful, warm yellow and orange by the time they reach Neverland.

Steve Hogarth during Neverland -- Photo ©Jeroen Bos

Even so this is not the best lightshow the band has ever had. Apart from the screen being under-used, another rather poor aspect I noticed today was that there are no movable spotlights or front-of-stage lights. All the spotlights are pre-programmed to the various bandmembers' positions, which means that if they are not exactly in the spot where they should be, the lights will shine completely wrong. In the case of Steve Rothery this meant that his spotlight was actually pointing to low, causing his upper half of his face to be in the shadows throughout the entire gig. I find it amazing that not a single crew member thought of adjusting this (remotely operated!!) spotlight, not even during the little break between Steve Rothery -- Photo © Jeroen Bosthe sets. It made the lightshow look rather cheap and unprofessional.

After the good first set the band once again started the second set with the beautiful Beyond You. Unfortunately the second set was even worse than yesterday's. Not that the actual setlist had changed much, they dropped Costa and Under The Sun and added The Party, but there was a complete lack of cohesion or build-up to a climax in the set. It was just a collection of songs with no apparent logical order.
And it wasn't the way the band played them, as they were very relaxed onstage and had a great deal of fun. Nor did it have to do with the sound (which was excellent) or the atmosphere (which was fine) it had entirely to do with the choice of songs in their set, which simply missed that spark of magic that Marillion concerts used to have.

Like yesterday, the encores were an anti-climax. I was somewhat hoping for a third encore, as this is the perfect venue for long sets, but I didn't mind the house-lights coming back on either. Once again, I came home from the concert rather disappointed.

Tuesday

May 4th is our national War Memorial day. At eight o'clock at night we have two minutes of silence to commemorate the casualties of the second world war, and all other wars since. There were notes posted around the venue that because of this the gig would not start until five past eight.
And without anyone having to count down or anything, at a few minutes to eight everybody just shut up and an entire hall with over 1500 people in it just stood there dead-silent for over two minutes. Apart from a few coughs and a single click of a camera from a photographer onstage not a single sound was to be heard - very impressive indeed.

As the people broke into an applause after the two minute silence, Gazpacho came onstage and started with the very dramatic Snowman. They couldn't have picked a better opening after such an impressive remembrance.
They followed with a revised set, which included two songs they hadn't played yet during this tour: The Secret and Sea Of Tranquility.

And I don't know what it is, whether it was the commemoration, whether the band had had a good soundcheck, whether it was the new setlist or whether it was just the fact that nobody really thought much of the venue beforehand (it is used as a cattle-market on Saturdays), but the sound was miles better than it had been the two previous gigs and Gazpacho played what was probably their best gig of their career so far. The applause they received was phenomenal and I dare saying that Gazpacho played a better gig than Marillion tonight.

For Marillion too the gig seemed to go better than the previous two nights, though the band clearly wasn't as enthusiastic as last night. Marillion too had revised their setlist, and after the Marbles set, they came back with Estonia, instead of Beyond You. Beyond You was instead played as an encore, replacing This Is The 21st Century.

Steve Hogarth during The Invisible Man -- Photo ©Jeroen Bos

As a second encore the band played... Cover My Eyes. Now I've never thought I'd ever say this, but... I was RELIEVED hearing Cover My Eyes and the crowd-response was terrific, 1500 people going mental.
Quite sad really, if you take in mind that Cover My Eyes isn't particularly the best song the band has ever written, and was seriously over-played in the nineties, that you can be relieved to hear such a crowd-pleaser again, after two nights of anti-climaxes.

In hindsight I have somewhat mixed feelings about the three Marillion gigs I've seen. Like I said before, the Marbles set was a revelation, and the second set was rather disappointing, especially in Utrecht, where a Marillion gig should be a party.
I will be seeing Marillion again in Tilburg on May 26th, when the band will be a good three weeks into the tour. Hopefully by then they will have found a good balance for the second set between rarely-played songs and crowd-pleasers.

In any case I had loads of fun before and after the gigs meeting many people I hadn't seen in a long while, and other whom up till recently were only names I knew from various forums. The after-parties on the Gazpacho tour-bus were also memorable, with more people joining everyday. Those experiences are better left untold, after all, what happens on a tour-bus, stays on the tour-bus...

Setlists:

Gazpacho:

Tilburg,
May 2nd:

Desert
Nemo
Ghost
Mesmer
Snowman
117
Bravo
Substitute For Murder

Utrecht,
May 3rd:

Desert
Snowman
Ghost
Mesmer
Bravo
Substitute For Murder

Zwolle,
May 4th:

Snowman
The Secret
Ghost
Mesmer
Sea Of Tranquility
Nemo
Substitute for Murder
Bravo

Marillion:

Tilburg,
May 2nd:

The Invisible Man
Marbles I
You're Gone
Angelina
Marbles II
Don't Hurt Yourself
Fantastic Place
Marbles III
The Damage
Marbles IV
Neverland

Beyond You
Costa Del Slough
Under The Sun
Cannibal Surf Babe
Quartz
Bridge
Living With The Big Lie
Between You And Me

This Is The 21st Century

Made Again

Utrecht,
May 3rd:

The Invisible Man
Marbles I
You're Gone
Angelina
Marbles II
Don't Hurt Yourself
Fantastic Place
Marbles III
The Damage
Marbles IV
Neverland

Beyond You
Cannibal Surf Babe
Quartz
The Party
Bridge
Living With The Big Lie
Between You And Me

This Is The 21st Century

Made Again

Zwolle,
May 4th:

The Invisible Man
Marbles I
You're Gone
Angelina
Marbles II
Don't Hurt Yourself
Fantastic Place
Marbles III
The Damage
Marbles IV
Neverland

Estonia
Quartz
Bridge
Living with the Big Lie
The Party
Between You and Me

Beyond You
Cannibal Surf Babe

Cover My Eyes

 

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2004 DPRP