REVIEW: Marillion – Live at the Forum – Christmas Tour 2014

MARILLION – Live at the Forum – Christmas Tour 2014 – 11 December 2014 (Abbey Road “instant live” CD set)

This CD was unusual in that it wasn’t a fanclub-only release.  It was an “instant live” released by Abbey Road, from Marillion’s 2014 Christmas tour — a double live album.  And unlike the official 2014 fanclub release, this one has (some) actual Christmas music on it!

“Gazpacho” is an apt way to start a celebration, which was the goal according to Steve Hogarth.  The lyrics might not be all bright and gleeful (“They say the King is losing his grip again”) but the music certainly is.  One of Steve Rothery’s catchiest riffs is coupled with Hogarth’s unmistakable voice.

“The Uninvited Guest”, an early single about HIV, is second in the setlist and one several looks back at the fondly-remembered early days.  It’s a bit loose and sluggish but the fans always sing along when prompted.  The newer “Power” follows, ominous and powerful, pun intended.  Chalk it among Marillion’s most memorable choruses.

Hits follow in quick succession:  “No One Can” and an extended “Warm Wet Circles”.   The laid back vibe continues as Marillion comfortably play for the dedicated.  They ping-pong back and forth between old and new, as the next two songs “Woke Up” and “Trap the Spark” are from 2008’s double album Happiness is the Road.  That atmospheric record has been a hard one to absorb over the years.  The songs are not immediate.  Fortunately it’s “Easter” next, a song that never fails to get the masses singing along.

“Sounds That Can’t Be Made” from the album of the same title still pleases, thanks in no small part to Hogarth’s passionate vocal.  Things start to feel seasonal, however, on “Seasons End” which sometimes (like this time!) opens with “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as only Hogarth can do it.  The song is as poignant today as folks like Greta Thunberg try to deliver the same message that Marillion had in 1989.

So watch the old world melt away,
A loss regrets could never mend,
You never miss it till it’s gone,
So say, goodbye.

Didn’t Hogarth say this concert was a celebration?  Well, Marillion have always been dark.  It’s been said that their early music with Fish was all about alcohol, and the later music with Hogarth about “death and water”.  There is a nugget of truth for that.

“Man of 1000 Faces”, from their “acoustic period” feels a bit more like a singalong.  If you can master the tricky words, that is!

I’m the man of a thousand ages,
You see my face in the stones of the Parthenon,
You hear my song in the babble of Babylon.
I’m the man of a thousand riches,
Be my guest at the feast of Satyricon,
You spend the money that my logo’s printed on.

But the whole thing coalesces into an absolutely massive mountain of music at the end, perfect for the crowd to chant alone.  It’s made for audience participation.  Then, the progressive rock epic “King” is jokingly dedicated to Harry Styles.  It’s a dubious honour, since the song was inspired by tragic figures such as Elvis and Kurt.

After a brief pause, it’s time for some Christmas music.  It’s “The Christmas Song” but not the same “Christmas Song” from the very first Marillion Christmas CD.  It’s the “real” one.  “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”  Apparently it didn’t go over well in Glasgow or Manchester.  “Fucking Northerners”, says Hogarth.  They bravely tried it again in London where it seemed to be better received.  “Above average!” shouts an audience member.  They top that with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.

The show is ended with a bunch of oldies: “Sláinte Mhath”, “The Release”, and from the first album, “Garden Party”!  “The Release” is interesting because it’s a B-side, albeit a very popular one, due to its soaring chorus and everyman lyric.  Hogarth always does well on “Sláinte” though it is quintessentially a Fish song.  As for “Garden Party”, it might be Marillion’s only real party song, quaint as it is.  “I’m rucking, I’m fucking!” but Steve lets the crowd finish for him.  It’s excellent fun on a CD that is often too serious for your house Christmas party.

You can hear just why this band has such a rabid fanbase on just about any of their live albums, but this one is particularly warm and inviting.  Have a listen.

4/5 stars

 

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