marillion live in Plovdiv - 'Sounds that Can be made'

24 September 2017
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'Sounds of The Ages 2017'

Roman theater, Plovdiv, Bulgaria 

24 September 2017

Words by George 'Duke Radushev', photo: Elena Nenkova
Translated by: Hristina Kostova


In the past decade, thanks to the efforts of radio Tangra Mega Rock with the support of the Plovdiv Municipality, the age-old stage of the ancient Roman Amphitheater in the city saw a number of memorable events. Exceptional names from the rock music scene had the honour of performing on this magical stage, with some of them choosing to release their concerts on CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray. In a short time the Forum Sounds of the Ages managed to turn into a symbol for quality organization of boutique musical events for connoisseurs. 

At the same time it has to be noted that not many of the bands and performers who had the honour of performing at the Amphitheater in Plovdiv could boast of perfect sound from the very first until the very last minute of their performance. Despite the brilliant acoustics of the amphitheater, the cases of problems throughout the first songs of a concert haven’t been rare. In the warm September evening of 24.09.2017 around 2000 fans of the British legend marillion were given a demonstration in exceptional perfection in regards to sound, vision, and stage presence; but let’s keep things chronological. .

At 6 p.m. sharp, through a special entrance of the Roman amphitheater were admitted the biggest fans of marillion, who took their seats in the first three rows front of stage. In the faces of the platinum ticket holders one could recognize faces familiar from the official DVD/Blu-ray releases of the band.

“The Family”, as the band themselves call their fans, had a quorum for the event with people coming all the way from Australia, Germany, Greece, Poland, The Netherlands, The UK, and USA, along with the Bulgarians in attendance. In this connection it shouldn't be forgotten that in less than three weeks the group is scheduled to perform at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London, a concert that was sold out in 4 minutes, and somewhat later marillion are heading to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan, for two concerts in Kawasaki. Despite all, there were “Family members” in attendance in Plovdiv as well, and it seems they left happy with the experience.

At 6:30 p.m. were open the rest of the entrance of the Roman amphitheater and the auedience started filling up the space in front of the stage. A good idea of the promoter was to play an audio announcement to warn people about the steep and slippery stairs of the theater..

8:02 p.m. – the lights went out, giving way to the special visuals on the big screen behind the stage, signifying the beginning of the concert. Under the muted opening chords of El Dorado from the recent album F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone and Run), one by one the musicians entered the stage for their second gig in Bulgaria in the last 8 years. 

El Dorado is an extraordinary composition dedicated to the current world issues like the migrant crisis and Brexit. Musical-wise it follows the traditions of classic progressive rock using gradual transitions and bombastic musical passages. The visuals complement the complex musical picture with abstract images following the main idea of the track.

During El Dorado the audience received the first portion of emblematic guitar solos by Steve Rothery, colourful keyboard strokes by Mark Kelly, delicate yet explosive drum passages by Ian Mosley, bombastic bass lines by Pete Trewavas, and a dose of inimitable charm by Steve Hogarth on vocals. There was a noticeable relief in the tension of the band once they hit stage, tension related to some negative experiences during their previous gig in the country. It was quickly replaced by the usual warm feeling of a live event and a meeting with new members of the “Family”.

h (Steve Hogarth) ended El Dorado in a brilliant way with the meaningful closing part of the composition, which states that

We are the grandchildren of apes, not angels 
But only we are gifted with the eyes to see 
On days without f e a r, when our heads are clear 
That angels, we could be.

In the DVD accompanying the Special Edition of F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone and Run), h says that approximately once in a decade marillion release a truly groundbreaking album, namely Misplaced Childhood in 1985, Brave in 1994, Marbles in 2004, and F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone and Run) in 2016.

It was time to take seats in the time machine, and be taken 13 years back to Marbles

The first composition performed from the album, which was enthusiastically welcomed by the Bulgarian audience, was the energetic You’re Gone, a song that reached number 7 in the UK Singles Chart at its release as a single in 2004. During its performance h showed off his envious skills as one of the most memorable vocalists in rock music today, with dynamic and impressive stage presence.

It was again time for the recent F.E.A.R. with the epic The Leavers, a song dedicated to the sacred relationship between band and audience. The theme of constant meetings and partings is symbolized by “The Leavers”, a role taken by the band and crew, while on the other hand “The Remainers” symbolizes the audience. 

The first ones constantly travel from city to city and find a new temporary home every day, while the latter remain in the same city and return to their homes immediately after the gig. The visuals during The Leavers are probably some of the best, representing a mix between a Wim Wenders-esque walk through places in Berlin familiar from his movie Wings of Desire, frames of a metro station on the cult U2 line in the city, and 3D rendered characters symbolizing “The Leavers” and “The Remainers”.

The ping-pong game between F.E.A.R. and Marbles took us to the first truly magical moment of the concert, which happened during the performance of Fantastic Place.

This composition has solidified its place as a fan-favourite that audiences would look forward to hearing live, and the Bulgarian audience didn’t make an exception; at the end of it everyone was standing and applauding the musicians on the stage for a long time.

The moment for another jump back in time came, this one to 1994 and Mad from the unique album Brave. Mad is part of the epic Goodbye to All That and is very favourite to the biggest fans of the band, because in a natural way it represents the way marillion compose music, namely in the form of jam sessions. During its performance Pete and Ian once again proved that they are one of the best rhythm sections in modern rock music and virtually blew away the first rows of the audience, while h completely got into character, recreating literally the title of the composition. The end of Mad transitioned into the unforgettable Afraid of Sunlight from the eponymous album released in 1995.

There is something really beautiful in this gradual progression in which Mark’s gentle keys are complemented and enriched by energetic bass lines, drum shrapnel, and the cutting solos of the electric guitar. And all of this as a background to h, practically tearing his vocal cords out. This performance became one of the most memorable during the concerts and received the appropriate reaction from the audience.

Then happened what a big part of the Bulgarian part of the audience was looking forward to. Sugar Mice from the great Clutching at Straws (1987) was chosen by the band as paying respects to the 30th anniversary of the album and at the same time a gift for the fans feeling nostalgic. The vocal performance by h was pure perfection and at no point the shadow of the Big Scot looming over the columns of the amphitheater was felt. Rothers (one of Steve Rothery’s pseudonyms) finally realized his dream of doing one of his favourite solos at the ancient stage in Plovdiv. A dream which was actually born along with the birth of Steve Rothery Band in Plovdiv in 2013.

The next performance, Real Tears for Sale from the album Happiness is the Road (2008), the band could have easily dedicated to their manager Lucy Jordache, who adores this composition and for a long time was trying to persuade them to include it permanently in the setlists. Instead of this, thanks to the visuals was understood that during this tour Real Tears would be dedicated to Sinead O’Connor and her fight with depression. A truly touching gesture from the artists to a colleague in distress. 

It finally came the time for Sounds That Can’t Be Made (2012) from which we heard the eponymous track and also Power. During Power, the opener epic El Dorado, and another one or two spots in the setlist it was given the impression as if Mad Jack (Mark Kelly) had added new samples that additionally decorate the musical background and imply for a searched surround effect during the live performance. All of this, along with the aforementioned overall players’ perfection, effectively turned the show into a lesson in sound engineering, overall vision, and stage presence. 

Man of a Thousand Faces from the album This Strange Engine (1997) has long been one of the most wanted for a live performance by the fans. There is something captivating in this seemingly simple composition, which culminates in a real tornado of sound and reciprocal emotion. During the performance of Man of a Thousand Faces audience and band were virtually one and all kinds of barriers were destroyed for good.

It was clear that the concert is entering its final stretch and what better beginning of the end than a track that has reached cult status in the past few years, i.e. King from Afraid of Sunlight (1995). The live performances of King are mostly notable for the fact that the focus of the audience is split between what’s happening on stage and the visuals projected on the screen behind it.

The same happened in the Roman amphitheater in Plovdiv. While h was holding his guitar high, paying tribute to Elvis, behind him were being projected shots of great musicians, actors, and artists who are no longer with us. Sometimes during the ending of King there could be insignificant glitches in the visuals due to the loud decibels and deliberately sought musical chaos, but not tonight!
Plovdiv received one of the most memorable performances of King in the whole history of marillion, and the radiant expression on the face of El Presidente (Ian Mosley) in the end spoke enough for what had just happened at the ancient place.

Each rock band has its own moments of reaching absolute musical perfection. Undoubtedly, one of these moments in marillion’s discography, which is rich in such cases, is Neverland from Marbles (2005). I have no idea whether the ancient Romans that had sat on the stone seats in the amphitheater had ever reflected on aesthetic cathegories; however, if beauty and intricacy could be embodied during a rock concert, it happened during the ten minutes of Neverland when we were made witness to one of the most impressive events that have ever happened at this place.

At the end of the song God (another pseudonym of Steve Rothery) immersed us in the magic of timelessness, while h was weaving patternsi n the hearts of the audience with his voice. I can say that we saw an absolutely phenomenal performance of this composition, and believe me, I have been to many concerts of the band and I know very well what I’m talking about!

After the final chords of Neverland the band bowed and left the ancient stage in order to give the audience the opportunity to express their love and appreciation. A couple of minutes later on the screen emerged the digitally rendered image of h in character as the Invisible Man. The opening song for Marbles (2005) has received a legendary status precisely because of its live performances with the new visuals and h getting into character as a businessman with a suit, stylish glasses, and the vision of a modern yuppie.

At the end the first rows couldn’t hold it and literally went crazy, screaming along with h during the culminating “I am perfectly sane; But I am the invisible man”.

The second and last encore for the night was the lengthened version of Three Minute Boy from the album Radiation (1998), which began with a little tease by h with The Beatles’ Hey Jude. During a live performance in its second half Three Minute Boy usually turns into something between a hymn, catharsis, and symbiosis between band and audience.

This effect was successfully accomplished in Plovdiv and it was evident that the band wanted to prolong this seance. However, every beginning, even one unnatural and magical in its origin, has to come to its natural end and so in 22:34 marillion gave a final bow to their Bulgarian audience and sunk in the shadows of the unique backstage area, situated in the base of a millennial Ionian colonnade.

I can’t say how memorable would be this concert for Hogarth, Rothery, Kelly, Trewavas, and Mosley, but I’m sure that the band increased the “Family”, with the Bulgarian audience being a worthy part of this community, and along with all those that had traveled from all over the world, turned the concert into a personification of the part sung by h in The Leavers:

We all come together
We’re all one tonight


Here is the full setlist from the marillion concert at the Roman amphitheater in Plovdiv on 24.09.2017:

1.El Dorado
2.You’re Gone
3.The Leavers
4.Fantastic Place
6.Afraid of Sunlight
7.Sugar Mice
8.Real Tears for Sale
9.Sounds That Can’t Be Made
11.Man of a Thousand Faces

Първи бис:

14.Invisible Man

Втори бис:

15.Three Minute Boy