A few weeks ago, I had the privilege (I don’t use that word lightly here) of attending Marillion Weekend in Montreal, Canada. For those who aren’t familiar with the weekend conventions, the band play three straight nights, each with a different setlist and theme.
Friday night featured the Anoraknophobia album in full, plus a few extras. There was a well-intentioned attempt to open the weekend with “Montreal,” a love letter to the city and its fans, but a blown fuse in the venue cut the performance short. (Not to worry, we eventually heard it during Sunday’s encores.) Unfazed, the band returned to the stage after a few minutes and launched into “Between You and Me.”
In my experience, Anoraknophobia is an album best enjoyed with headphones on a quiet evening, so it doesn’t exactly make for the best live album. Still, “Separated Out” and “If My Heart Were a Ball” were obvious standouts. The encore performance of “This Strange Engine” was one of the highlights of the weekend, as Steve Hogarth’s final lyrics – “is true, is true” – rang through the venue long after the lights came up.
On Saturday, the band performed the entirety of Marbles, probably the most beloved album from the Hogarth era. And unlike Anorak, nearly every song on the album lends itself perfectly to a live show. After the opening performance of “Invisible Man,” I looked around the venue and saw people literally holding their heads in disbelief, still in awe at a song they had likely heard hundreds of times. And it went this way for most of the night, from “Ocean Cloud” to “Neverland.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that everything – lights, sound, atmosphere – is in its rightful place at a Marillion concert, and the Marbles night showcased this perfectly. At the end of the show, I remarked to friends that the band’s lighting tech (whose name I embarrassingly can’t recall)* truly gets every song. The performances are as visually striking as they are transcendent.
On Sunday night, the band returned to fan favorites with a “charting the singles” theme that reached all the way back to 1982’s “Market Square Heroes.” I snuck a look at the setlist from the band’s earlier conventions in Holland and the UK, so I knew what songs were to come, but it was obvious from the reactions in the room that many other fans had waited to be surprised. As the band counted up the years from “Garden Party” and “Kayleigh,” they revisited a few rare tracks: “Sympathy,” “These Chains,” and the alternate, more hopeful version of “The Great Escape.”
The Sunday night show confirmed what I suspect those of us in attendance already knew: how deeply personal much of Marillion’s music remains to the fans, as long as 30 years after first release. As the crowd continued singing the last lines of “Easter” – “forgive, forget, say never again” – well after the song had ended, it was obvious that all of us in the room, band included, felt and appreciated the truth of those words.
Even weeks later, all I can think of is how grateful I am – grateful to Marillion for revealing elements of the human experience that are so often lost and obscured, and for helping us to remember that such experiences are still there to be had.
Edit: Marillion’s lighting designer is Yenz Nyholm, who deserves serious recognition for the lighting production.