Marillion, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 18th November 2021
Four dates into the ten UK shows that have been in the Marillion family diaries for many months, we come together in Manchester to seek redemption from the ravages of the trials of the previous eighteen months.
It’s actually been over 700 days since Marillion were last on a stage in front of an audience. Bassist Pete Trewavas has noted the band’s excitement and nerves directly ahead of their opening night in Hull, but the fan response has been overwhelming. Marillion have been showered with love from a partisan fanbase and the feeling is probably mutual. Early reports on the fan sites are overwhelmingly positive and overflowing with enthusiasm.
So after an opening set from the Antimatter duo, armed with two guitars and effects pedals, the acoustic embellished with some electric touches, politely received by those in their seats, we were ready. The release as the lights finally dimmed and five figures walked on in the shadows was palpable.
A full minute or two passed as we all got reacquainted and Steve Hogarth got himself plugged in. And how about The Release to explode out as the opening song? Not to be but never mind – the occasionally played Season’s End ‘B’ side made a very welcome appearance towards the end of the set. Sounds That Can’t Be Made as an opening number was a first; a midtempo number while everyone found their places – Pete Trewavas riding a wave of adrenaline and bounding around the front of the stage – rather than the wild party celebration abandon of something like Between You And Me.
For any devotees who’d followed the setlist from the first three dates, the tweaks over those gigs, mainly in the encores, were eclipsed by wholesale changes in Manchester. The return of the mighty King – second song in surprisingly, when it often sits as the climax of the set was followed by the stunning tour debut of Afraid Of Sunlight before You’re Gone and a particularly emotional Easter. The latter is the song that back in 1999, established the Marillion/Manchester relationship and again tonight, there’s a heartfelt intro from Hogarth that gets to the point where the crack in his voice means he needs to simply introduce the song before he’s overcome. Along with what’s arguably the cherry on the rich cake that’s made of Steve Rothery solos, it’s one of the major moments of the set.
Following the sequence of music from Brave, the new Be Hard On Yourself from the upcoming An Hour Before It’s Dark album provided yet another highlight – hearing new Marillion music always is – but while we await the full release of the new work, they have a vast catalogue from which to pick their comeback set. That little Brave set proves that the set the boys have chosen to perm from on this tour is a vast wealth of riches. Hard to fault
Proof in the pudding is the appearance from the annals of Berlin from the first of the Steve Hogarth albums; the main eyebrow raiser along with the aforementioned (personal fave) The Release, it shows how they’ve chosen with some thought rather than go for the obvious big hitters. They’re there of course, the set piece set close Neverland seeing Hogarth donning his fringed jacket to add to the visuals as he takes off on his Peter Pan flight with another piercing Rothery solo. And talking of visuals, the more recent Marillion shows in seated theatres have seen the quality in production values and lighting go through the roof. Tonight is no exception with a wonderfully programmed light show to complement the sounds coming from the stage. Compliments to the FOH crew.
For the encore treats tonight – we’ve been promised plenty of surprises up the sleeve from Pete Trewavas’ online postings – we have to roll out another inevitable ‘highlights’ in a set of highlights phrase. The thundering electronic pulse intro was the giveaway to Splintering Heart complete with frenzied and impassioned vocal delivery and instrumental passages; a contrast to the two acoustic guitars and Hogarth cross legged at the stage lip for Made Again. Probably making plenty of eye contact and possibly even spotting the lucky gent to who he passed his guitar at the end of the evening.
And like Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket once said – there’s more. The Leavers – a song/selection of ‘bits’ strung together – is almost obligatory, even though we were heading into curfew zone. In particular the stirring One Tonight ending with Hogarth getting a second wind and where the audience stands as one to herald the “we come together” chorus. Still can’t help wishing the Rothery solo part that tops this all off could be a bit – just a bit – longer.
Not that anyone in the Bridgewater Hall ever doubted it, but Marillion were simply triumphant in their return to Manchester. Maybe the rather plush confines of the Bridgewater with its impressive acoustics should be the new spiritual home for Marillion. These dates have seen Marillion spoil their fans but Manchester is particularly spoilt.