If Marillion set out to produce brand new acoustic arrangements of selected highlights of their extensive back catalogue to give Steve “H” Hogarth a rest from writing, as he suggested tongue firmly in cheek, then that would be a shame.
This acoustic set is no hackneyed “unplugged” attempt to put a few bums on seats but a total reworking of Marillion standards chosen by individual band members to receive the full treatment.
Throw in a raft of tuned percussion from hammer dulcimer to glockenspiel and other exotic varieties and you get an expansive, uncluttered sound but one that is by no means just unplugged. As a Marillion live virgin I didn’t know any different and as a result I may have enjoyed the “Less is More” set more than the dedicated fans.
It’s easy to get the feeling that the natives are a bit restless in the Marillion camp. On the face of it everything is as it should be for this leg of the “Less Is More” acoustic tour and a good few of the fans that queued up in the freezing cold were the same that fought through wind and rain to see the band in a cave in Cornwall over the preceding weekend.
But a straw poll of the faithful conducted during the interval raised a few questions about the format and the album. Apparently it’s “OK” with only a couple of the songs improving on the originals, and they did not like sitting down!
It was also obvious that the band were aware of the ambivalence generated by the project. With no support in tow the performance was split into two with the album played in its entirety in the first half. “If you don’t like it then you’re in for a long wait” served as an introduction to “Interior Lulu”. The band seemed at pains to justify the approach with comments like “I cant even remember what it sounded like before” and “We don’t listen to our own music — we get enough of that at work” punctuating the set.
I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and thankfully neither did the assembled fans who warmed up to the whole thing very quickly. By “If My Heart Were A Ball…” the penny had dropped. This wasn’t an acoustic set but a total reworking in terms of instrumentation and the feel of the songs rendering parts of the songs unrecognisable from the originals. By the end of the first half and “This Is The 21st Century” the band left the stage to a standing ovation.
The paper set list was headed with the words “Sell The Album” and perhaps with some justification. Each song in the first half seemed a surprise to a lot of the crowd who greeted them as if they were unexpected.
It may be 20 years since the end of the Fish era but the distinctive elements of the original Marillion sound still linger whether the band like it or not, particularly in the use of twelve string guitar and piano. Ironically it’s not any bombastic electronic elements that produce the prog-rock feel but the more thoughtful passages harking back to 70’s vintage Banks and Hackett. But the whole package is now arguably indie rock in this format and in the second half “Estonia” and “Beautiful” were more Radiohead than Genesis.
The second half was right back in familiar territory and seemed something of a release for both the crowd and the band with “H” being a lot more vocal between songs with tales of obsessions and celebrities, and showing a willingness to get the crowd involved which was absent in the first half.
Two encores may have been overplaying it a bit but it gave the fans an opportunity to sing along and shout for requests. To the consternation of the rest of the band, and particularly Steve Rothery who had the wrong guitar, “H” responded and changed the set list on the fly with “Ocean Cloud” supplanting “Answering Machine”. An opportunity to abuse Simon Cowell with “3 Minute Boy” ended the evening and they were off to yet another standing ovation.
Thanks to Stuart for saving me a seat on the front row!
Out Of this World
Wrapped Up In Time
Hard As Love
If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill
It’s Not Your Fault
Memory Of Water
This Is The 21st Century
Cover My Eyes
3 Minute Boy
Review – Ian Gelling
Photos – Steph Colledge