Marillion at The Civic in Wolverhampton

I’ve seen Marillion live far more times than any other band so it says a lot about the power of their shows that I still try to see them any time the opportunity arises. Tonight is particularly special for me as many of my early gigs as a pre-teen were seeing Marillion at this venue, and this is their first time back after its long-protracted refurbishment, and subsequent grand reopening earlier this year.

Before the main event though, we are treated to a short but sweet set from Iamthemorning. They are a band that I had previously only known by their reputation, and in just half an hour they prove that their critical acclaim is well deserved. Although their studio recordings feature a range of instruments, tonight it is just vocalist Marjana Semkina and pianist Gleb Kolyadin performing without the aid of touring musicians or backing tracks.

The songs still shine in this stripped-down format and Semkina’s stage presence more than makes up for the empty space on stage. Her humour between songs is endearing and provides a welcome contrast to the macabre subject matter of their songs, something which Semkina herself jokes about. As the band’s all-too-brief set comes to a close, I make a mental note to finally check out the band’s studio work as it’s clear I’ve been missing out.

Marillion are always greeted like returning heroes by their ardent fanbase and tonight is no exception as both band and audience seem to acknowledge that it has been far too long since the last time they visited Wolverhampton. The band managed to fit 12 songs into their 2-hour set, which is frankly good going by prog standards. Naturally, the set leans heavily on the latest album An Hour Before It’s Dark, but modern classic Marbles also receives a fair chunk of set time too. The Invisible Man is a reliably dramatic opener that showcases much of what the band do best with its near-constant shifts between different soundscapes and singer Steve Hogarth embodying the spirit of the titular character with his impassioned vocals and gestures.

Although they have more than enough fan favourites to fill multiple shows, the band also include a real rarity in the form of 2012’s Lucky Man which had been absent from sets for a decade before this tour. Whilst the rust caused by this gap shows when Hogarth nearly has to restart the song during its intro, it’s always a welcome treat when a band with a catalogue of such depth plays something most of the audience are unlikely to have heard live before.

The band are sporting a larger production than they’ve had for their last few tours, featuring the return of a video screen backdrop, an assortment of vertical strip lights and even two disco balls. Though Marillion are more than capable of keeping the audience engaged without any extra toys, these added visual elements help elevate the key emotional moments of the songs. Speaking of toys, Hogarth brings out his MIDI-controlled musical cricket bat for a few numbers this evening. Considering the number of keyboards already on stage it’s not really an essential piece of equipment, but it is a fun spin on the typical keytar favoured by many a prog act.

Famed session musician Luis Jardim is accompanying the band on this tour performing additional percussion. Unfortunately, this sort of instrumentation proves to be better suited to studio recordings rather than a live setting as it struggles to find its place in the mix. This is a shame since the band clearly enjoy the chemistry they have with Jardim and new arrangements of old songs can help to make a set feel fresh.

Guitarist Steve Rothery reminds the audience why he is so beloved as he recreates some of his finest solos throughout the night. The rest of the band too all get their chance to shine during the show without ever straying into self-indulgent noodling. The chaotic crescendo of the final encore King is a striking way for the band to finish, sending the audience into the night having witnessed a fine summary of what makes Marillion’s music so compelling.

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