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Saturday 20 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Marillion (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Marillion, St David's Hall, Cardiff, 18/11/2021

It had been a long time coming for this gig and there was a palpable buzz in Cardiff's St David's Hall, expecting excitement the floor had been opened so there was standing room available. Obviously this being me I took my seat and waited for the lights to go down at just after 7:30. 

Onto the stage walked two men, Mick Moss carrying an acoustic guitar and Dave Hall slinging an electric. Mick Moss (8) is the founding and now only member of Antimatter, he plays everything in the studio but Dave is the lead guitarist when performing live. I'm unsure what to bill this as, the official billing was Mick Moss but personally I'd say it was an Antimatter show. I digress as what we got was a set of stripped down Antimatter songs. Moss' deep resonant vocals carrying the emotion of the songs reworking them into sparse but interesting arrangements featuring acoustic and electric guitars along with a looper and a percussion box. There were a few familiar with Moss/Antimatter that cheered along as he warmed them up in a relaxed way. But this set also won over many who may not of known most notably the two guys next to me who I had to explaining their whole Moss/Antimatter thing to (lucky them) but were agreed that they'd be checking out more. (Pop the cheque in the post Mick). 

With everyone fully warmed up there was a brief pause before the main event. As the lights went down it was finally time. After having tours cancelled, being holed up in a studio and even having to crowdfund their tour insurance, resulting in some serious wipe down of all instruments after the line check. The masters of neo/modern progressive rock music Marillion (10) returned to a Cardiff stage, this was their third show of the tour after Hull and Edinburgh, and surprises were promised. 

Not that they were needed as I'm sure the throng of mentalists down on the standing part of the St David's Hall would have listened to them read the phone book. Their audience is an odd one heavily rocking out to even the lightest, most introspective number. Their passion over spilt into slanging matches between the seated and standing members of the audience at least three times during the evening but the security handled it well. It was a bizarre sight to behold but that passion their fans have for them makes Marillion a cult sensation. One of their official T-Shirts puts it more succinctly than I could baring the legend "Marillion: Still Uncool As F**k"

Sounds That Can't Be Made was a dramatic opening to the night with the band building the drama for what was to come. Steve Hogarth, aka H, is reminiscent of a drunken uncle flouting his talents at a party but obviously far superior in every way especially vocally. At times his range and power is breathtaking and he's a joy to watch and listen to while performing and during the song breaks. With a Shakespearean flair, vaudevillian panache and a humour that is self deprecating, he is the ring leader to welcome you in, inviting you to indulge in the spectacle and share a jovial drink with. 

In one instance actually handing someone down the front a (sealed) bottle of water, who asked for it. He's a consummate showman even when things go wrong, and yes they do go wrong as, a constant source of major amusement, for us not him, was that everytime he was given a guitar to augment Steve Rothery, it failed to work, except right at the end cueing a cheer from the crowd.

As promised the first surprise of the evening was the inclusion of Afraid Of Sunlight that replaced Beautiful in the set list though the rest of this songs remained the same (as Led Zeppelin once put it). Admittedly when you play set comprised of album tracks, most of which came from 1994's Brave (their most successful album with H until 2016's F E A R) or 1989's Seasons End (their first with H) with brief forays into Afraid Of Sunlight, Holidays In Eden and Marbles, it makes for a dynamic, interesting and refreshing set list as they dove deep into their discography to create this show especially for this tour.

The main set featured peaks and troughs, Ian Mosley setting the pace with his astounding drumming as Mark Kelly keeps track of all things synthesised, shifting between two huge keyboard stacks (and an MacBook) to bring out those waves of synth and samples, occasionally joined by H who adds additional piano. This business behind him lets Steve Rothery play as if it's an afterthought his relaxed style all the more impressive due to how technical it is but how easy he makes it look. On the other hand Pete Trewavas is a ball of lighting stomping his way around the stage and on the spot as he pumps out the bass grooves, he makes rock n roll look like it's a joy to play while also moving like a man half his age. With H in the middle and a superior lightshow Marillion are visual feast as well an audio one.

The main bulk was made up of tracks from the albums I've mentioned, climbing and falling with emotion and rapture. The one new song, Be Hard On Yourself, is a propulsive, upbeat rocker that apparently isn't even the best song on the album, boding well for An Hour Before It's Dark. We got a sharp intake of breath, as the first encore was the entirety of The Leavers from F E A R. This mammoth song working better live than it does on record (and it's brilliant there) full of drama and hope, sending the faithful down the front into raptures as the hugged, sang and danced along. Though they had been doing this all night, it was The Leavers that felt like a closure for the fans and the band that they had reached this point after the nearly 2 years previous.

Everyone was thanked and off they went again returning for one more encore, this has been different every night so far and in St David's Hall (where they recorded a live album a few years ago) it was two acoustic (ish) numbers starting with the evergreen Easter and closing with the joyous Made Again. An evening of catharsis, joy and more than a little drinking Marillion were on top form, safe in their Covid bubble and playing the set like their lives depended on it. If there's a better gig this year, I'll be a drunken uncle!

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