Steve Rothery Band / The Dave Foster Band - Band On The Wall, Manchester (UK) - 12 January 2017
"I've played bigger but not better." The Marillion love affair with Manchester even extends to the warmth of the reception that the Steve Rothery-fronted band get whenever they set foot in a Manchester venue. While the Marillos have made Manchester Academy their home, Rothery is equally at home in the more intimate confines of the Band On The Wall.
Handy too when your band also forms the support act. There's an acknowledged mutual appreciation between SRB guitarist Dave Foster and his boss – Foster's Mr So & So supporting Marillion back in the mid-nineties beginning an ongoing admiration which has existed ever since. His own 'Dreamless' album was recently cited as the Rothery album of the year in a well-known Progressive Rock magazine – what he called an album "of great power and beauty by one of the most talented musicians I know."
The band name seems to have been evolving day by day on the tour, taking the tag of DF Deluxe for the night. When they play 'Black Sunrise' and 'Ache', vocalist Dinet Poortman is joined by SRB singer Martin Jakubski and the man himself. With the whole tour party on stage, you can see what the fuss is about.
The main act arrives with the 'Ghost And Garden Parties' tag, reflecting a two part show. The first half focuses on Rothery's well established 'Ghosts Of Pripyat' solo album. An instrumental set which could prove potentially challenging, yet the material has a habit of creeping up, structured to build slowly to intense crescendos and climaxes. The opening 'Morpheus' being a classic example and 'Summer's End's faintly low key and pastoral beginning evolving into a huge wall of sound of set closing proportions. 'White Pass' is a standout though, the Rothery/Foster interplay at its finest. Together, as in the blinding fret-burning trade-offs in 'The Old Man Of The Sea', they make up the Prog Rock equivalent of the twin guitar attack of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash.
The second half of the show revolves around a deep dip into the vast Marillion catalogue, delighting in going as far back as 'Three Boats Down From The Candy' – the B-side of their debut single. Some might argue that there's an element of indulgence in Rothers getting to choose what he calls songs he loves but doesn't get to play enough and also let loose with some of his favourite solos, but there's no argument from the crowd. It just so happens that it's a Marillion fan's dream. A win-win situation that's heartening to see him celebrating rather than being in denial of the back catalogue. Sometimes the material from the early days might be viewed as a bit of a timepiece, yet it's hard to argue that 'Incubus', 'Sugar Mice' and a surprise 'White Russian' are Marillion songs of immense stature with the added bonus that the latter was a version they would be proud of.
A trip down Memory Lane totally justified by the fervour with which the crowd belt out, amongst others, "this world is totally fugazi!" – the lines "where are the poets, where are the visionaries?" never more apt. With keyboard player Riccardo Romano living every word and note, singer Martin Jakubski steps up to do a more than passable job on delivering the occasionally wordy lyrics with some style, retaining the passion minus the often histrionic delivery from the early eighties Fish days. There's also the chance, in a venue with its floor space surrounded by a three-sided gallery, to utter the famous "the balcony!" call during the 'Market Square Heroes' romp (check out the 'Reel To Real' album – fans will appreciate the detail). A gig which goes a long way to demonstrating why Marillion diehards hold Steve Rothery in such reverence.