Marillion Breaks The "Seven Year Itch"

Park West; Chicago, Illinois, USA; 10/2/04

by Christopher Thelen

I have been attending concerts now for 20 years, and thought I saw everything there was to see.

But when British rockers Marillion recently played in Chicago for the first time in seven years, the audience was not satisfied letting the band leave after the traditional encore -- or three, which is where I lost count. Even after the house lights were turned back on, the crowd refused to accept that the show was over -- and, five minutes later, the house lights were turned off again as the band returned for a final encore. Such an occurrence is indeed rare -- but then again, Marillion proved they're no ordinary band.

Touring to support their recent release Marbles, the group spent the first half of the show playing the new album in its single-disc entirety. (Marbles is available via the band's Web site as a two-disc set.) Although the album had yet to be released in the States, the crowd followed along with lead singer Steve Hogarth on nearly every word, serving as further proof of the famous loyalty the group's fans have towards Marillion. (Likewise, the talk heard outside of the venue was of places in Europe people had traveled to see Marillion.)

Onstage, Hogarth is an amazing bundle of energy, calling forth the spirit of Genesis-era Peter Gabriel on several occasions. (It made this reviewer think that, had Genesis offered Phil Collins's vacancy to Hogarth, they'd still be around today.) Yet Hogarth's animation served to fuel the music created by the rest of the group, and never seemed out of place or over-the-top.

On more than one occasion, Hogarth and the rest of the band seemed nearly overwhelmed by the emotions and support of the fans. When introducing "You're Gone," the first single in Britain for Marbles, Hogarth noted that the audience probably never heard the song on American radio, then wryly added, "But who the fuck needs radio?"

If anyone doubted the power of the music on Marbles, Marillion cast aside all doubts in the first half of the show. Songs like "Angelina," "Don't Hurt Yourself" and "The Invisible Man" all made one question painfully obvious: Why the hell aren't these guys superstars?

The second half of the show focused on Marillion's back catalog, although the absence of any material from the period when Marillion was fronted by Fish was noted. Still, the selection of songs was a wonderful one, even if you didn't have a complete knowledge of the group's history. Songs like "Between You And Me," "Estonia" (dedicated to a friend who had recently passed away) and "The Uninvited Guest" showed everyone in attendance that Marillion wanted to make up for their seven-year absence in the United States. By the time this review appears online, Marillion will be wrapping up their tour, and should be on their way back home. Memo to the group: don't let's make it a habit of keeping people waiting this long again.

Opening the show was independent artist John Wesley, who quickly won over many fans through his half-hour set. Backed only with an acoustic guitar and preprogrammed loops, Wesley showed more than enough songwriting skill and grace to suggest that, given half a chance in this cutthroat business, he could well make a solid name for himself. Judging from the sales of his ten-year anniversary CD after the show, he may be well on his way already.

Finally, a word about the Park West and the audience. Like I said, I've been going to shows for 20 years, but I have to say this publicly: the crowd I dealt with was one of the most polite and considerate I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of... even though I wish people would leave their weed at home. From the friendly conversations among travelers comparing road notes to the impromptu game of MTV trivia I was fortunate to join in on, it made me wish that more audiences were as well-behaved. As for the venue, it's rare when you find a place where you can choose to stand or sit for the entire show, but the Park West fit that description well. Helpful staff members and a well-designed sound system were other perks of the evening, even if parking around the hall is as rare as a Britney Spears concert without any lip-synching.

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