Baby, it’s cold outside, but this 1,000-capacity venue is hot and heaving, and the turnout’s no real surprise. Marillion are renowned for their extraordinary grass-roots fan base; FEAR has just scored them their highest UK album chart placing since ’87’s Clutching At Straws; and two days after this show, tickets for their first Royal Albert Hall date sold out in about an hour. In their own sub-radar way, they’re a big deal. This is the fifth night on the UK leg of their 2016 World Tour, and the preceding shows in North and South America and Europe have sharpened their chops, leaving them lean and honed.
There’s rafter-shaking applause when they come on. Steve Hogarth is just a handsome face projected on their screen at first, for the preamble to opener The Invisible Man. When he joins the band in person and lays into this tune, you’re reminded what performance really is. He delivers this powerful song vocally and physically – his eyes manic in parts, his finger on his wrist at the line, ‘The invisible pulse silently thumping.’ Then, in Power, as he sings the titular line, he seizes his outstretched bicep. Frontmanship 101 stuff maybe, but dramatic and engrossing all the same. “I never met a Welshman I didn’t like,” he teases later.
Marillion succeed in making each show feel like a mini convention. Their core audience get them, and this being the Land Of Song, the room’s in fine voice tonight. After a brilliant read of Sounds That Can’t Be Made, the crowd dah-dah-dah Steve Rothery’s catchy guitar melody, and the band come in again spontaneously, gently, underneath them, until it all peters out into roars of pleasure. The most rapturously received song of the night, Sugar Mice is an almost intimate duet between band and fans. Rothery towers stage-right beside his huge amp and effects cases, and his solo here is spine-tingling. That cultured Strat tone, the seasoned vibrato – when your audience is singing the guitar parts back to you, you’re doing something very right.
They perform Man Of A Thousand Faces joyously, and the poignant King is accompanied by a video wall of dead rock stars: Emerson, Bowie and Prince among 2016’s sad additions to the ranks of Elvis, Joplin, Cobain et al. While introducing The New Kings from FEAR, we’re told that this is about the ultra-rich, “The people who really run the world – don’t kid yourselves.” Gee, thanks H, we never realised that! Yet that four-part suite is monumental – beautifully constructed and performed. Delivered in H’s etiolated falsetto, that chorus line, ‘Fuck everyone and run,’ is chilling and angry. As this post-truth year dies, The New Kings’ fourth part Why Is Nothing Ever True? rings out meaningfully. After a swipe at Trump, H recounts how, when he played the show at Leeds University days before, he got a bit political and the crowd booed him. “No they didn’t!” counters the guy at the merch desk behind Prog. “They loved it!” Well, one of them must be post-true…
The encores, FEAR’s five-parter El Dorado and This Strange Engine, cap a display of real strength from this veteran unit, who deserve all the plaudits and success currently coming their way. They’ve held this room for nearly two-and-a-half hours with complex, mainly fresh material, and left an ecstatic TramShed feeling the fear, and loving it anyway.