Marillion – Snowhere Else Tour – Cardiff University 4/12/07

5 stars (out of 5)

1

MarillionIf you’ve just got a fleeting knowledge of Marillion you probably think they’re a bunch of alarmingly uncool old codgers fronted by a wild Scotsman telling tales of Tolkein.

Well, there’s no Fishy frontman and no dodgy fantasy stories of warrior and heroes – at least, not anymore. But yes, they’re not kids. And they’re still uncool. Way uncool. Or, as one of their t-shirts proclaims: ‘Uncool as F**k’.

But do you really care about ‘cool’? If so, you could be missing out on one of the most dramatic and powerful rock bands around.

And drama and power were what it was all about last night in the Great Hall of Cardiff University. Charismatic lead singer Steve Hogarth soared, glided, screamed and whispered through an impressive back catalogue that refuses to fit in the standard verse-chorus-verse-guitar solo of most rock songs. Included in them was the stirring inspiration behind the raising of the Bluebird and the remains of Donald Campbell from Coniston Water – ‘Out of this World’. The track was augmented by a truly breathtaking solo by guitarist Steve Rothery, sounding like a mix between Dave Gilmour and an ethereal supernatural being from a higher plane. Even my mate – more of an Iron Maiden fan who thought Fish would be singing – exclaimed, “wow, that was a bit good.”

Other highlights included ‘Somewhere Else’, the title track of their latest album, and the haunting ‘Season’s End’. But it soon became clear there was a problem, one which Hogarth himself soon admitted to.

“This is meant to be a kind of Christmas tour. But the problem is most of our songs are not exactly festive – they’re about doom and gloom, death and water, some to the point of suicide,” he told the crowd. So to remedy the problem they played two sets – the first including some of their more involved numbers, the second built around their rockier tracks (or “up-tempo doom and gloom”, as Hogarth described it).

The plan seemed to go down well with the faithful amassed to worship at the altar of Marillion. The second set kicked off with a storming ‘Hooks In You’ (the closest this band gets to heavy metal), keeping up the pace through the Beach Boys and Motorhead inspired ‘Cannibal Surf Babe’, until the multiple encores rounded off a truly fantastic gig (even my Maiden-fan mate agreed): the angry-but-beautiful ‘Quartz’, the sublime and emotional classic ‘Neverland’, and ‘Let It Snow’.

‘Let It Snow’?? Yes, with Hogarth dressed as Santa and keyboard maestro Mark Kelly as the evil Scrooge. Well, it is almost Christmas and even Marillion can’t be all doom and gloom…