There’s a certain amount of support band scepticism tonight.
Despite having a history dating back 16 years, Lazuli aren’t an act whose music is appreciated in the UK, so as these jovial Frenchmen bound onto the stage, they’re met by stifled, polite applause. However, interest is soon piqued given their unconventional choice of instruments, not least the léode, played by Claude Leonetti, which can only be described as a curious blend of lead guitar, lap steel and wood saw that drives many of the songs.
They’re an endearing mob, with their powerfully progressive sound enhanced by an ability to perform perfectly as a unit. A finale that sees the band encircling a xylophone-type instrument known as a marimba, recreating the intro to Marillion’s Incommunicado, wins over any audience waverers.
Lazuli, with their cheery attitude and musical excellence, are winning new fans gig by gig. Some of their headline UK gigs on this trip may have been cancelled due to a lack of ticket sales and awareness, but performances as resounding as this will ensure that won’t happen again.
By the time Fish comes onstage, the ceiling is already dripping condensed sweat back onto the audience below, and it’s apparent that this boisterous Liverpool crowd are determined to give Misplaced Childhood a riotous send-off on a tour billed as a Farewell To Childhood. Before that celebration, though, Fish heightens the anticipation by opening the set with Pipeline, an upbeat start that showcases the prowess of his band. Bassist Steve Vantsis and Panic Room drummer Gavin Griffiths provide an unshakable rhythmic backdrop that guitarist Robin Boult and It Bites keyboard player John Beck delight in embellishing with a cutting, melodic thrust.
Admitting in the introduction that he’s built a career on “being shit at relationships”, the acidic yet oddly upbeat lyrics of Long Cold Day echo that sentiment in what is one of many cathartic exorcisms of failed romantic episodes that lace Fish’s work. Indeed, the title track from his last album, A Feast Of Consequences, hints at similar failings. However, the heartening chorus lifts the song above the maudlin, with Fish visibly energised by the absorbed and fully engaged crowd reaction.
There’s a distinct darkness about Family Business and The Perception Of Johnny Punter, not least given the respective subject matters of domestic abuse and innocent casualties of war, but for all of their countless merits, it’s what follows that everyone assembled is here to witness.
It could be 1985. The voice is there, Fish’s band are deftly replicating the sounds that made the album so exceptional, and the crowd are absorbed in a mix of deferential nostalgia and admiration at the winning performance. Indeed, Fish is seemingly lost in the moment, fully immersed in the emotions that inspired the lyrics some three decades ago. Kayleigh conjures memories of Marillion at Donington and Milton Keynes Bowl at the height of their commercial appeal, with Lavender and Heart Of Lothian similarly affecting.
Adding to the poignancy, Fish spins on his heels to face and salute a projection of John ‘Mylo’ Mylett (to whom the set was dedicated), the drummer with Liverpool band Rage, whose 1984 death inspired the album’s Mylo section.
During Threshold, with Fish relating the imagery of ‘Children with vacant stares/ Destined for rape in the alleyways,’ he contorts and screams away from the microphone. For many, it appears merely to be part of the visual drama, but the reality is that a disc in his back has popped out of place.
It’s a final, potent rendition of a special album that leaves many saddened by the realisation that it will never happen again.
In spite of that pain, he continues the set without giving any major indications to the crowd, not missing any cues and delivering an impeccable performance. Childhoods End? and White Feather provoke a captivating audience singalong, and both band and a hobbling, wounded singer exit the stage grinning with satisfaction.
It’s a final, potent rendition of a special album that leaves many in the audience clearly saddened by the realisation that it will never happen again. Yet there’s little respite for tears as the band reappear for a vociferous performance of the song that started it all, Market Square Heroes.
The set closes with The Company, a wonderfully irreverent drinking song that sees Fish finally succumbing to the pain, sitting on a chair and self-deprecatingly describing himself as the “Val Doonican of prog”. It’s an unjust way for him to end such a sparkling evening, but the live legacy of Misplaced Childhood will remain long in the memory.