Your occasional source for heavy metal, progressive rock and hard rock coverage. Whenever I feel like it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

CD Review: Marillion--The Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra)

Marillion on the cover of The Thieving Magpie. Clockwise from left: Pete Trewavas, Ian Mosely, Mark Kelley, Steve Rothery, Fish. Painting by Mark Wilkinson. © 1988 EMI Records

In the midst of all these 30th anniversary Marillion festivities comes the welcome CD reissue of the band's "farewell to Fish" double live album, The Thieving Magpie. Titled after the band's choice of opening music on their 1987 Clutching at Straws tour, the set has been out of print for a number of years. It finally takes its place among the EMI Marillion Remasters, completing the project some twelve years after its start.

This is sort of a "greatest hits live" compilation, with performances from the band's 1984, 1985 and 1987 tours. Throughout, the boys from Aylesbury (and one from Dalkeith) are in magnificent form, from the opening thunder of "Slainte Mhath" to the powerful performances of Fish-era classics "He Knows You Know," "Fugazi" and of course, "Script for a Jester's Tear." Fish's tremendous stage presence bursts out of the speakers on the one-two punch of "Incommunicado". and "White Russian." The rest of the band is in excellent fettle here, with Steve Rothery's laser-like guitar and Mark Kelly's keyboard washes leading the charge over the underrated rhythm powerhouse of Pete Trewavas and Ian Mosely. And these are better performances than on the studio albums, showing that early Marillion, like most of their music, sounds better live.

The real highlight though is the second disc, a complete and definitive live recording of the band's third album, Misplaced Childhood. The presence of an odd dropped note or Fish ad-lib makes the performance even more convincing. The saga of the first side, with its sad tales of alcoholics, prostitutes and lost romance culminates in the unstoppable crescendo of "Heart of Lothian." The band digs hungrily into the lyric mysteries and rhythmic complexity of "Blind Curve"--Mosely sounds incredibly relaxed playing in 7/8! These great songsemerge here with fresh clarity, helped by audience participation on "Childhood's End?" (with an extended Rothery solo) and the climactic, martial "White Feather."

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Marillion Starter Pack: Five Essential Albums

A beginner's guide to classic Marillion. Two albums from Fish, three from the Steve Hogarth era. You could just get Six of One and Half a Dozen Of The Other, The Best Of Both Worlds or The Best of Marillion but they're really an album band. This ought to get you started. Ooh and they're all concept albums!

Misplaced Childhood (1985)
The third album is a concept record dealing with Fish's broken heart and attempts to regain one's childhood emotions through the filter of a strong acid trip. Contains much majestic soaring music, along with the singles "Kayleigh", "Lavender", and "Heart of Lothian." The bonus disc has demos and B-sides, including "Lady Nina" and "Freaks."

Clutching At Straws (1987)
Darkness descended on Marillion and the band takes the listener with them. Not cheerful stuff, (except for the gloriously lurching "Incommunicado") but great songs including "Warm Wet Circles", "White Russian", "Slainte Mhath" and "Sugar Mice." The second disc includes the demos for the band's unfinished fifth album with Fish, found on a cassette in a bickie tin by keyboardist Mark Kelly. Superb.

Brave (1993)
It can be argued that the H edition of the band hit its stride with this searing 70-minute concept album dealing with a young girl's intention to throw herself off the Severn Bridge. Told in flashback, the grim story has three possible endings, depending on where you decide to stop the album. Brilliant.

Afraid of Sunlight (1995)
AoS was therapy following the suicide of Kurt Cobain. The eight songs muse on the problems of celebrity and self-destruction, examining such diverse stories as the crash of the Bluebird craft and the death of Elvis. "Beyond You" is about Phil Spector, and it was recorded in mono in a successful effort to reproduce the Spector "Wall of Sound" technique.

marbles (2004)
The band's thirteenth album closes the circle with Misplaced Childhood. Two discs inspired by an event from H's early years take the listener from darkness to light, as the self-loathing and paranoia of "The Invisible Man" end in the starry skies of "Neverland". With the singles "You're Gone", "Don't Hurt Yourself" and the gorgeous should've-been-a-single "Angelina."

To get you started even faster, click here for "Crash Course", a free sampler of Marillion music from the band itself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

He Knows You Know you're a Freak

Ten Ways You Know You're a Marillion fan.

The author, with Fish, New York City, June 2008

  1. You've raised a pint with Fish, or alternately bought a beer for Steve Rothery (or any other member of the band).

  2. Your Sunday brunch menu includes edgy eggs, queuing cumbers, and fresh bagels, (bought at the corner store) followed by white Russians.

  3. You're planning a pilgrimage/vacation to the Chateau Marouatte in France, where H and the boys recorded Brave.

  4. You use elaborate early Fish lyrics to describe everyday situations:
    "Sheathed within the Walkman wear the halo of distortion, aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversations."
    "Singing psychedelic praises to the depths of a china bowl."

  5. You can name each celebrity who has a song written about them on Afraid of Sunlight, but you're still not too sure about "Beautiful." (For the uninitiated, the list is O.J. Simpson, Jake LaMotta, Brian Wilson, Donald Campbell, Kurt Cobain, Phil Spector and Elvis Presley.)

  6. Someone at a Marillion show calls you a "freak." Not only do you take it as a complement, you buy them a pint!

  7. You wear your anorak out of season, preferably under the sun.

  8. You have a stained white 1992 Holidays in Eden t-shirt and you won't let your girlfriend throw it out because it was autographed by Mark Kelly.

  9. You know how to sing the "Geezabun" chant, and occasionally do so in the shower.

  10. You still refer to H (singer Steve Hogarth) as "the new guy."

CD Review: Marillion--Live From Loreley

This live album was recorded on June 18, 1987 at the Frelichtsbuhne, a famous amphitheater located in Oberhausen, Germany on the banks of the Rhine River, Live from Loreley had been released on VHS by EMI back in the '80s, and again on DVD five years ago. However, this 2CD issue, part of an ongoing series of live Marillion remasters, features the Fish-era version of Marillion in full flight in front of an enthusiastic audience.

From the opening chords of "Slainte Mhath", the band barrels forward into a set covering most of their classic cuts from the first four albums. Fish is in excellent vocal form, spitting verbal venom on "Assassing", teen angst on "Script for a Jester's Tear" and regret in the moving "Sugar Mice". However, his stage patter is mostly in German.

The second disc opens with the three-part suite that starts Clutching at Straws and a complete performance of the first side of Misplaced Childhood. A roaring "Incommunicado" closes the show. The encores, consisting of fan favorites "Garden Party" and "Market Square Heroes", are exuberant, and are two of the four previously unreleased tracks included in the package.

Steve Rothery plays gorgeous, soaring lines--his solo on this version of "Heart of Lothian" bursts out of the speakers. Mark Kelly adds textures with his keyboards with the occasional Keith Emerson-inspired chromatic run, and Pete Trewavas does double duty with backing vocals on most of the songs along with his nimble, driving bass playing.

Ian Mosely is one of the stars of this album, watching him play on the previously-released DVD of this show, one is amazed that such thunderous sound can come forth from his laconic movements. For many of the Clutching dates, the band was accompanied by backup singe Cori Josias, and she provides capable support for Fish.

All the elements of a classic Marillion set are present here--if you want to hear what the band sounded like on a great night just before the big man quit, then this is definitely worth hearing. If you can find a copy of the DVD, the show is worth seeing too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Concerning Marillion: A Legacy

This week, we celebrate the 30-year legacy of British progressive rockers Marillion, a band with an insanely loyal fanbase (that call themselves "Freaks") and an almost total lack of success in the North American market.

  • Ask a New York music fan what he thinks of Marillion, and they'll probably remember the band getting booed off the stage at Radio City Music Hall (in 1982) by a force of notoriously intolerant Rush fans.
  • Ask if they've heard anything recorded by the band since the departure of vocalist Fish: the answer is usually "They're still around?"
  • Ask if they've heard any of Fish's thirteen solo records: they'll probably think you're talking about a jam band from Vermont.

Such is life. However, a better way of life can be found in the remarkable spread of 16 studio records, including the band's latest release Less Is More and a bevy of live DVDs chronicling several different eras in the history of the little band from Aylesbury. However, before we get to the reviews (and oh yes, there are reviews coming) some history.

Marillion, circa 1982. (l.r.: Mark Kelly, Steve Rothery, Fish, Mick Pointer, Pete Trewavas)

Guitarist Steve Rothery founded the band in 1979 as Silmarillion, part of a second generation of British progressive rock groups that appeared right around the time the first prog wave discovered four-minute singles, MTV and Armani. As the '80s dawned, Yes gave way to Asia and Genesis replaced Peter Gabriel with Phil Collins. Starting in British clubs and later theaters, Marillion found an audience with their complex ten-minute songs, the wild, yet commanding stage presence of 6'5" Scottish lead singer Fish, and the powerhouse trio of Rothery, bassist Pete Trewavas, and keyboardist Mark Kelly. Drummer Ian Mosely joined in 1983, finalizing the lineup a. Their third album, Misplaced Childhood was a cocktail of Fish's childhood memories and his shattered love life, triggered by an acid trip. It spawned two huge hits: "Kayleigh" and "Lavender."

Marilion hit the rocks following the 1987 tour for Clutching At Straws, a complex, dark record dealing with the horrors of Fish's alcoholism. The burly singer quit during sessions for the fifth record, and was ultimately replaced by singer Steve Hogarth, formerly of Europeans. Starting with Season's End, the Hogarth version of the band has evolved and changed from album to album. The poppy Holidays in Eden was followed by the epic Brave. Afraid of Sunlight dealt with celebrity, featuring character studies of O.J. Simpson, Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley, among others.

Marillion, circa 2009. (l.r.: Mark Kelly, Ian Mosely, Steve Hogarthm Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas)

In the 21st century, the band grew even closer with its fanbase. 12,764 fans ordered advance copies of 2001's Anoraknophobia--before the album was recorded! (In gratitude, our names appear in the album booklet). The band took a similar approach with two recent double albums: Marbles and Happiness Is The Road. Marillion have absorbed many influences, played many shows, staged six successful Marillion Weekend conventions, and have served as sort of spiritual godfathers to experimental British bands like Radiohead and Porcupine Tree.

Twenty years after Fish's departure, Marillion fans remain divided as to their choice of singer. Steve Hogarth has been with the band through eleven albums, three record labels, and many ups and downs. He is the face and voice of Marillion, yet many old-school fans long for the old days with Fish. Fish, on the other hand, has a successful solo career--he has released 13 studio albums and tours Europe frequently. Neither camp has ever really cracked the American market, but both have done short, occasional tours, playing to packed houses full of hungry Marillion fans who want every show to end with "Easter" and "Garden Party."

OK. Now you know who Marillion are, so now I can write about them properly in the next couple of posts.

All the best freaks are here.

The anoraks, too.

The Ten Commandments of Rock'n'Roll

Brought to you by Ben's Kosher Delicatessen

  1. Thou shalt have no God save Lemmy, for Lemmy art God and James Hetfield be his profit.

  2. Thou shalt not be that guy. (also known as the "Droz Commandment.") Also written as "Thou shalt not wear the t-shirt of the band headlining, nor opening the gig, unless ye be in the band's road crew."

  3. Thou shalt listen to one Rush, and they art Canadian.

  4. Thou shalt not turn it down, unlest thine significant other complaineth.

  5. Thou shalt not mosh lest ye be under 25.

  6. Keepeth thine foot out of stadiums, lest there be artists thou hast never seen live.

  7. Thou shalt not sing "All Along the Watchtower" lest thou knowest the last verse.
    (also known as the Bono Commandment, applies to cover tunes in general.)

  8. Taketh thine apple of knowledge from the Tree of Porcupine. With thine knowledge, thou mayst Stump the Trunk.

  9. Yield us not to temptation, lest it be Within Temptation--or possibly the Temptations.

  10. Thine IPod shall runneth over with thine tunes that art ballsy. And they shalt be shareble MP3s for thine comrades. Yet ye shalt freeth 5 megs for thine OS.

Addenda: Should the Almighty strike the author dead with lightning, he shalt ride it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Marillion Pull the Plug--Again

Marillion have a new record out, as of Oct. 5. Less Is More is the band's sixteenth effort, a studio album where songs from the last 20 years are re-examined as acoustic numbers. (All the songs date from the band's two decades with current singer Steve Hogarth. There are no Fish-era songs included.) Incidentally, 2009 marks the founding of the band (originally named Silmarillion) in 1979 by guitar player and sole original member Steve Rothery.

Turning off the amplifiers is nothing new for Marilion--the band has been releasing acoustic live albums through their website ever since the 1998 Live At the Walls and the fan-club only A Piss-Up in a Brewery recorded at the Bass Ale bottling plant. In fact, the last time this reporter saw Marillion was in 2005 when their three-man "Los Trios Marillos" tour (minus Mark Kelly and Ian Mosely) rolled through New York and played the Bowery Ballroom.

Listening to the song fragments that are included on the band's recent series of YouTube webcasts, the songs on Less Is More sound revitalized, with fresh energy and an exploration of new textures. The boldest choice on here iss the decision to re-do "Interior Lulu", a difficult track that was a fan favorite but one the band worked on for the span of two album sessions before it finally appeared on The band does not play this one live too often, and I hope that its presence on Less Is More may result in its return to the set.

Anyway, here's the track-list:

  1. Go (
  2. Interior Lulu (
  3. Out of This World (Afraid of Sunlight)
  4. Wrapped Up In Time (Happiness is the Road)
  5. The Space (Season's End)
  6. Hard As Love (Brave)
  7. Quartz (Anoraknophobia)
  8. If My Heart Were a Ball it Would Roll Uphill (Anoraknophobia)
  9. It's Not Your Fault (new track)
  10. Memory of Water (This Strange Engine)
  11. This is the 21st Century (Anoraknophobia)

plus a bonus track. Yay!

The album can be ordered direct from the band. Purchasing the CD gives you a free digital download. The record will be released in our few remaining North American record shops sometime in November.

Kantoj de morto kaj akvo!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Concert Review: U2 Cured My Vertigo!

I arrived at FedEx Field on Tuesday night to see this stop on U2's 360º Tour. Once we reached the top level and climbed up to our seats (section 425, row 20, nine rows from the top) I looked down--and my knees just buckled.

The stage set for this tour is a huge claw-like structure with a central spire that rises to 181 ft. The band is playing on a circular stage surrounded by their fans. Another circular catwalk surrounds the stage. Movable cantilever bridges allow the band to move back and forth between the inner and outer stage. The whole is topped by a multi-faceted, expandable digital cyclorama television that raises and lowers, expands and contracts during the show.

I felt my knees weaken. My stomach turned. It was the vague uneasiness you get on a roller coaster but with no chance of that welcome, precipitous drop. I sat there uncomfortably until Muse came on--and I was still uncomfortable during their set. It didn't help that I don't really know Muse's stuff that well, and thanks to the stadium's wonky acoustics, I could not understand a word sung by Matthew Bellamy. My stomach would not stop churning. I walked down (carefully) halfway through their set. I walked around the concourse, had a Johnny Rockets' burger (not bad for stadium food) and tried to get my head together.

When I returned to my seat, I still felt uncomfortable, out not as severely as before. I kept thinking my jeans would slip off the seat and I'd go careening down to the floor in the ultimate stage-dive. Finally, U2 took the stage, opening with "Breathe" and "Magnificent" from their new disc No Line On the Horizon. I was still wobbly until the band played "Elevation." We all rose to our feet and howled along with Bono. At that point, the vertigo, the queasiness and the fear went away. Later in the show, they played "Vertigo", and I felt no ill effects at all.

Highlights included a thrilling "City of Blinding Lights", "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (dedicated to the political oppression in Iran) and a thunderous remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (featuring Larry Mullen rocking a djembe and all four band members roaming the outer catwalk. A sweeping "Walk On", dedicated to Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi ended the set.

"One" was introduced by Bishop Desmond Tutu. Finally, the central core of the stage set turned into a giant lighthouse with a mirrored onion dome at the top sending radiance throughout the stadium during "With Or Without You." The building shook. Bono sang "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" while wearing a laser-firing leather jacket, tracing red beams through the smoke. And the band finished with one more new song, the gorgeous, soaring "Moment of Surrender".

Even with the massive, eternally-evolving stage set, this was a great, simple rock show, presenting the U2's strengths in a whole new way. The rock-solid rhythm section, Bono's theatrics and the Edge's unique effects-driven guitar still work--even if they were playing under a single work-light. Perhaps they should do that on the next tour. Meanwhile, check out the official site of the U2 360º Tour.

Twenty Bands That Will Probably Never Get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

One band's struggle for entry into the Hall of Fame (or at least a nomination...sheesh)

The latest slate of RRHoF 'nominations' have arrived. This year's list of the anointed includes Kiss, Jimmy Cliff, Genesis, The Hollies, LL Cool J, Laura Nyro, ABBA (?!)and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

We're happy about the Genesis nomination, although the R&R voters are probably basing it on the Phil Collins Invisible Touch years. And Peter Gabriel has been eligible as a solo artist since 2002.

Of the others--ABBA? I personally like Laura Nyro. Seeing the Peppers on this list makes me feel kind of….old?

Oh well. Here's the list in order of eligibility. Artists are eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record.

So here's the list of twenty (so far) omitted bands, in order of eligibility....

  1. Deep Purple (eligible since 1993)

  2. Blue Cheer (eligible since 1993)

  3. Yes (eligible since 1994)

  4. King Crimson (eligible since 1994)

  5. Hawkwind (eligible since 1995)

  6. Blue Öyster Cult (eligible since 1997)

  7. Judas Priest (eligible since 1999)

  8. Kansas (eligible since 1999)

  9. Rush (eligible since 1999)

  10. Journey (eligible since 2000)

  11. Heart (eligible sine 2000)

  12. Motörhead (eligible since 2002)

  13. Iron Maiden (eligible since 2005)

  14. Mercyful Fate (eligible since 2007)

  15. Marillion (eligible since 2007)

  16. The Misfits (eligible since 2008)

  17. Queensrÿche (eligible since 2009)

  18. Megadeth (eligible this year)

  19. Slayer (eligible this year)

  20. Anthrax (eligible this year)

And for the record, Britney Spears will be eligible in 2024. Oooh.