When I think of Marillion, the first image that comes to mind is sincerity. It was the band’s sincerity that grabbed me the first time I heard “Afraid of Sunlight,” a nearly 7-minute story of celebrity and self-destruction that nonetheless ends with an invocation to hope, and again when I stood in the audience at the band’s weekend convention in Montreal last year. Lead singer Steve Hogarth likes to introduce the autobiographical “This Strange Engine” with the claim that the song is “perfectly true” – a sentiment that in fact captures all of what Marillion does and is.
This is where the band’s latest live release, A Sunday Night Above The Rain, succeeds – it reveals the sincerity that has come to define Marillion. The live release is the band’s third installment from the 2013 “Weekends” in Holland, England, and Canada, and features Sunday night performances recorded at both Montreal’s Theatre L’Olympia and Centre Parcs, Port Zelande. The band performs their 2012 studio album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, in its entirety, interspersing the more recent tracks with other songs from their 30+ year catalog. From the opening 17-minute prog epic, “Gaza” it’s clear that the audience is in for something special. When Hogarth cries “it just ain’t right” for the children of Gaza, you believe him. As the band moves into “Montreal,” you can’t help but note their admiration and appreciation for the city and its fans. And when they reach “Neverland,” a highlight of every Marillion show, the mood in the room borders on transcendent.
The setlist showcases the band’s unique reimagining of prog music, weaving narratives and odd time signatures with contemporary rock elements in “Power,” Beatles-esque riffs in “Lucky Man,” and soaring, melodic guitar solos in “The Sky Above the Rain.” The lights and screen projections succeed in creating an atmosphere and story appropriate to each song, but also to the whole of the experience, elevating fans “above the clouds” if only for a few hours. When the camera pans to the audience, expressions range from joyful to dumbstruck. And the band themselves, having seen this in one form or another for more than 30 years, nonetheless seem genuinely surprised by it all. Every time.
A Sunday Night Above The Rain brings those 30 years into a pitch-perfect two and a half hour distillation. From the abject power of “Gaza” to the tongue-in-cheek-I-forgot-the-lyrics-again “Garden Party,” any fool can see the bond that has grown between the band and its fans. And watching the show unfold, it is easy to see why.