English band Marillion rarely makes it to the States due to the expense of touring. Even more rare is them playing dates in the Southeast. They typically just hit the big cities such as New York, Washington DC and Chicago. Thus, when an Atlanta date was announced in Atlanta it was indeed a special occasion. In fact, the last time they played Atlanta was in 1990.
Marillion generally falls into the category of progressive rock similar to Yes and Genesis. However, through the years, they have evolved to transcend that category incorporating pop, electronic and other influences into their sound. Having been a fan for over twenty years, I finally got the opportunity to see them live in my hometown.
The venue was the recently renovated Variety Playhouse in the Little Five Points area. Attendance appeared to be near capacity for a rainy, Saturday night. Having no opening act, Marillion took the stage promptly at 8pm. They opened with the first track from their recent album FEAR called El Dorado. A slow, politically charged, atmospheric piece that eased the band into the evening. After the 16+ minute opener, singer Steve Hogarth announced they would be playing some older music due to the length of time from their last appearance in our town.
Up next was You’re Gone from the Marbles album. A much more accessible, up beat song with strong pop elements. You can tell the band was having fun as they worked through the set. The use of a projector in the background was very well done and added to the mood of the songs. Additional songs rounded out the set including the deeper FEAR track, White Paper, the Great Escape from the Brave album and the second epic from FEAR, the Leavers.
The Variety Playhouse features a sunken floor in the front by the stage. The rest of the venue is primarily seats. For the most part the crowd remained seated except for applause at the end of a song. This suited me just fine as it was nice to sit back and just listen and absorb the music.
Steve Hogarth is the clear focus of the band. His charismatic approach to the music combined with his interaction with the crowd was a definite highlight. Keyboardist Mark Kelly and bassist Pete Trewavas provide the backbone of the music. Whereas guitarist Steve Rothery would periodically cut through the atmosphere to provide a searing guitar solo that would take the music to another level.
They played some of their older material including their biggest hit, Kayleigh. The crowd sang along and it was a clear fan favorite. They reached deeper into their catalog with the moody Season’s End and also Sugar Mice from their Clutching at Straws album. This seemed a favorite of Rothery who seemed even more engaged during the melodic, extended guitar solo.
After about 90 minutes, Hogarth informed the crowd of their, “possibly”, last song, King from the album, Afraid of Sunlight. The song was inspired by Kurt Cobain after his death in how sudden fame can destroy those who are not prepared for it. The projector played clips of all the major artists who have died in recent years including Cobain, Prince, Chris Cornell and David Bowie.
While I was enjoying the set, to this point many of their more epic, longer songs from the past had been ignored. However, they made up for that with the encore. They opened with a crowd favorite, the lead track from Marbles called The Invisible Man. Hogarth appears dressed as a banker in a suit wearing glasses. The song is another slow burner that climaxes with an emotional crescendo.
The band then came out for a second encore of likely my favorite Marillion song, This Strange Engine. Clocking in at over 17 minutes, the song is based on Hogarth’s early life and the loss of his father. The song feels like a journey as it moves through Steve’s childhood. It speaks of his life in rural England where his father worked his life as a miner where the mines eventually claimed his life.
By the end, they played for over 2 hours. And even though they have enough strong material to play another few hours, the crowd was well satisfied with a set almost 30 years in the waiting.