The true sign of a great show is when the band can kick things off with an entire performance of their new album, which you have not even heard a note from yet, and hold you captive throughout the whole thing. That is exactly what Marillion did to me with the performance of their new Marbles album in its entirety. It is refreshing to see a band like Marillion, with a 25-plus year history (hard to believe isn’t it?), continue to get better, both in the studio and on the stage. Many Marillion fans threw in the towel when original front-man, Fish, left the band in 1988, but the band soldiered on and released arguably their best album, Season’s End, in 1989 with new front-man Steve Hogarth at the helm.
Hogarth has evolved into one of the best front-men in the business – with his Peter Gabriel-like song narratives, charismatic personality, and second-to-none crowd rapport. Just look at the difference between his first ever tour with Marillion, on the From Stoke Row To Ipanema DVD, when he was obviously uncomfortable and intimidated by the legions of loyal Marillion fans who were still shocked by Fish‘s departure. He confidently proves here that Marillion is now undeniably HIS band. No longer are the Fish-era classics such as "Kayleigh", and "Lavender" an every concert requirement. Now the crowds plead for the hits from Season’s End and Brave instead.
Marbles On The Road was filmed during the last two nights of the UK Marbles tour at the Astoria theater in London, England on July 10 and 11, 2004. It is presented as one cohesive concert, and basically follows the setlist from the tour. This version was finally released in the US after the two-disk extended addition DVD had been available on Marillion‘s website for several months already. The only problem was that you had to be willing to shell out about 35 US dollars to pick that baby up.
The show opens with the moody, prog epic "The Invisible Man", with the stage barely lit and bathed in reddish-blue light, and Hogarth demurely dressed in a suite, tie, and studious looking glasses. For those of you who, like myself, haven’t seen Marillion for a few years, you will be taken aback by how much weight Steve Rothery has gained – I’d estimate about 50 pounds. It certainly hasn’t hurt his guitar playing though, because he sounds better than ever. After the short, jazzy, piano-ballad interlude of "Marbles I" Hogarth looses his jacket, tie, and glasses and launches into the band’s pop single (at least in the UK) "You’re Gone". Next up is "Angelina", whose smooth-jazz overtones, thanks to some great Hammond organ, and clean electric guitar, make this song remind me a lot of late-period Roxy Music. It just continues to get better from there. The first set ends with the McCartney-esque "The Damage" followed by the epic "Neverland", which gets about three minutes trimmed from the 12-minute CD version here. Hogarth literally pours his heart and soul into these performances and forces you to hang on to his every word.
The first encore licks off with the first two tracks "Bridge" and "Living With The Big Lie" from one of my favorite Hogarth-era Marillion albums, 1994’s Brave. This powerful, emotional performance was one of the show’s highlights, as Hogarth draws you into his head with his repeated chants of "I GOT USED TO IT!". The second encore begins with Hogarth carrying out a cricket bat, which has been midi-configured, and he lets fans in the front row fondle it causing all kinds of magical sounds to emanate. The Season’s End classic "Uninvited Guest" starts off the set and soon the entire crowd is singing the entire chorus, while Hogarth can only grin with satisfaction. Fish who? Half-way into the song Hogarth turns on a bullet-camera attached to his mic stand, and as he stands in front of the camera, staring into it, it makes for an incredible close-up of him with the entire audience cheering wildly behind him. They ended the concert with their Holidays In Eden single "Cover My Eyes", a U2-inspired shot at mainstream chart success. This is not one of their better songs, so the ending was a little anti-climactic for me.
This is definitely the best produced Marillion DVD to date, and only misses a top rating thanks to the extremely inconsistent video quality. Firstly though, the audio was simply superb. Finally a 5.1 surround mix on a Marillion DVD! The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix utilized the surround speakers as good as I have heard on a concert DVD. The crowd noise and various instrument sounds projected from the rear speakers really made you feel like you were there in the audience. The video suffered dramatically from a lot of over-exposed and blurry images, especially when certain red and blue stage lighting was utilized. This extreme color oversaturization was especially bad at the beginning of the show during "The Invisible Man" and "Angelina" and towards the end during "Between You and Me". It was so bad during "The Invisible Man" that I thought it had to be some kind of post-production video affect. The quality was very hit and miss, because about half the time the picture looked excellent. The camera work was decent but suffered from the usually hyper-fast angle changes you expect from The Boom Boom Boys production team, who has done most of Marillion‘s videos.
I enjoyed this DVD so much that it actually has me itchin’ to buy the two DVD extended edition, which includes seven additional songs that were performed at these shows, along with many other special features. Whatever you do, get at least one of these versions.
The Invisible Man
Don’t Hurt Yourself
Living With The Big Lie
Between You and Me
Cover My Eyes
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