Like punching an in-law or eating three different kinds of dessert from one bowl, the Marillion end-of-year shows have become something of a Christmas tradition.
Overindulging their audience, the way a party host might his guests, the Christmas Marillion (which sounds more festive than it is – at no point were the band dressed up as Santa and his elves, sadly) are at their high-flying best.
Earlier in the autumn, Steve Hogarth had told Prog that these shows would represent the punchier and more upbeat end of the band’s catalogue as Christmas, in his words, is a time of celebration. Which is easier said than done when you consider that a huge swathe of their songs sound like they were designed to make the listener lay his head down on the nearest table and wonder where it all went wrong.
There’s little by way of dismay tonight though. Marillion – who have almost all had a successful year either as solo artists or as parts of other bands – seem genuinely delighted to see each other. Grins are swapped, Hogarth’s terrible jokes are met with an uproarious response both off and on the stage, and the band’s performance veers brilliantly from the ridiculous (ridiculously good, before you start filling up the letters pages with your angst) to the sublime.
Gazpacho may make for something of an understated start, but the insistent thrum of The Uninvited Guest heralds the start of the evening’s first lusty and emphatically tuneless singalongs. But it’s the end-of-year ardour that counts. Take the woman sprawled out on the floor by the merchandise stand. It’s debateable that she knows what room she’s in or what day it is, but she still, miraculously, seems to know all the words to Easter. Ditto the drunk gentleman leaning heavily against the Forum’s back wall. Both could have once featured as bleary figures somewhere on the sleeve for Clutching At Straws, but the intimacy and familiarity of tonight’s songs still echo resoundingly through both.
Power and the warmly welcomed Sounds That Can’t Be Made remind you of the musical hurdle the band have set themselves with their last album, but tonight is about celebrating the present and the recent past. Warm Wet Circles is a delirious shout-along, building with fervour to a dizzying crescendo. Man Of A Thousand Faces is stirring and emboldened. Meanwhile, the set‑ending King is a rousing call to arms heralded on a thousand or more outstretched hands clutching plastic pints of lager raised to the sky.
There’s little left to do, then, but celebrate the holidays with John Lennon’s …War Is Over and Mel Torme’s The Christmas Song. After that, it’s not long before Garden Party is ushering us out into the night with the promise of heading home for the holidays, and yet another year to come.