Marillion have a new CD and DVD out, Live At Cadogan Hall, catching them live in concert and delivering a reasonable set of their prog-rock stew. This is not a band that have ever really caught on in a significant way in the US, or made even a small dent in the US mainstream rock market. Yet, prog-rock enthusiasts, British music fans, and a small group of devoted Marillion loyalists dispersed the world over have kept the band stumbling around just under the radar line for decades.
It is, of course, to any number of hard-core Marillion fans, totally not the same band without Fish, and with, Steve Hogarth. It's a major issue to some fans, and sort of like to many, Aerosmith without Steven Tyler, or a similar comparison. But, on the other side, there are another group of fans that could care less if Fish was there singing or not, and will take the band any way they are offered. Hence, the Marillion the world has known since after 1988. It's been that long, so perhaps folks may want to start getting used to Steve...
Onward we go, into the Cadogan Hall, and an intimate set from the tail end of their acoustic tour. This is of course... the "Less Is More" acoustic tour, and the date was December 9th, 2009, for those of you die-hard Marillion fans who just have to know.
It's esoteric stuff, and no amount of unplugging them can really take that away. Hogarth, to his credit, tries very hard, and the diverse musicianship of the band members helps keep things afloat - the multi-talented Pete Trawavas makes magic on the vibraphone, and everyone's overall contribution on the percussion-front throughout the show was a great way to allow the acoustic tour to bring a little extra spice and seasoning.
Hogarth has some incredible gear in the way of keyboards, hammer dulcimer and other toys positioned around him. His long and tedious intros to pieces were, at times, as painful as the dramatic prog arrangements he'd use the odd instruments for. It was hard not to find that an adoring Marillion crowd would be the only group of folks who'd stand for this kind of ultra, uber-eclectic stuff. Those would be the same crew still able to stomach late 70's ELP, album-length tracks broken into movements and other music that by today's dry and cynical standards, seems bloated, irrelevant, and awfully disconnected from reality.
But, I will say, the lights on the hammer dulcimer were grand, and it is a show, isn't it? Certainly the selection of material was gobbled up by the adoring throng in the small theatre audience, but getting through it on your own... that is another matter altogether. Take, for example Wrapped Up In Time... while you may be inclined to run for the door as Hogarth delivers a mercifully short introduction, this reviewer advises you fight it out, and stick with it. This tasty treat grows and the guitar work from Steve Rothery is totally worth the listen.
The Space is another gem, as is Quartz from the first disc. The largely male audience is shown seldom, but there was some definite head-nodding going on. Looked like a happy crowd at the Cadogan. Oh sure. Great lights during that one. Woo hoo.
Memory Of Water is a genuinely well-written song, and you can relax on this one. Perhaps you're hoping for no worries about needing to manage siting quietly through another Steve Hogarth song intro; he'll just get us right into this one. Mmm.... Not exactly. But hey, the next one, This Is The 21st Century, has a bit quicker arrival at music after Steve's always eloquent and verbose intro. You're in for a real nice cookie this time around. This one turned out quite nicely. Grows slowly -- like many Marillion treasures do -- and eventually rewards with a nice hammer dulcimer segment. Look at the cool blue light. Look at the Hogarth man go. Go, Steve, go. Good stuff.
No One Can is on here and gets a bit of pleased reaction from the crowd. But did you expect different? Beautiful had a great Steve Rothery guitar line on the beginning, showing why so many feel he's the most redeeming aspect of the group. The man is a savage monster and can play anything with such ease.
This Train Is My Life was fabulous and you would've thought the song was the highlight of the second disc, but no, no, no... more was still to come, despite the fantastic vocal layers that Marillion are known for, being delivered at among their best performance all night. The theatre, glowing red and showing a good use of their minimal lighting rig, also was working out during this jam.
The house was up and on their feet - can I get a hand clap thang, y'all? This was perhaps the most rocking and mainstream moment of the night. You're Gone, a fine Marillion tune that offered a raucous and soulful bit of pain we can all relate to, eased us along.
The venue does look great under all the colorful lights, and the hand clap upbeat vibe of You're Gone gets a shot with 80 Days backing it up, and as Ray Cruz here at HPR might say, keeping the rumba going, baby. Well, again, not really, but, it was as close as these boys come. Gazpacho was well-done, and that was when it became apparent they saved up the serious rhythmic numbers for a last minute rally. Oh, interesting. Crafty buggers, aren't they? And... it worked! There was a definite need for some spark in this thing, and mercifully, they arrive toting along more than a sack of energy as the two-disc set comes to a close. It was closer to... a wheelbarrow load. Maybe two, with a very festive vibe, and giant Christmas tree lit up above and behind them, with the whole December thing in the air... You can sort of feel it, and The Answering Machine pays-off as Marillion keep the groove tendency going. Hey this acoustic thing is working out, after all. Plus Steve is all talked-out. NICE. It's just song after song, with little of his earlier monologues that are long enough to go out to the corner store and back, or perhaps hit the local taco stand for take out. A moody Estonia takes the concert to the mellow space-rock mode, where some well-picked guitar work from Mr. Rothery makes the song, although even someone worn out on Hogarth's lengthy raps would have to praise him on his strong vocals during this cut.
Easter keeps the mellow side of Marillion, the soft and emo-like side, back in the spotlight, and it's a reflective stretch before their epic Three Minute Boy. Worth the wait, boys, worth the wait. And it is boys... there is not a female in sight during the brief crowd pans, and it's obvious why they keep the crowd shots to a minimum. Yikes. Is there a girl there? Who knows. The crowd sing-along makes it seem like it could be an Oasis jam, and it's chicken skin for sure to hear the theatrical interplay with the crowd filling in their screams on cue and singing the lines with such passion. Those passionate fans, after all, is what has kept Marillion alive all these years. It's appropriately in this finale.