Pretty much anything Marillion does sets off a flurry of excitement amongst their dedicated fan base; that said, expectations and spirits were especially elevated on the night of Saturday, February 10 as the band were set to play their first show in Atlanta since 1990. By the time that doors opened at the Variety Playhouse in the über-hip Little Five Points neighbourhood, the line to enter was several hundred people deep and snaking around the parking lot behind the venue. Unsurprisingly, but wonderfully gratifyingly, Marillion met their audience’s enthusiasm and raised them a nigh-perfect, transcendent performance.
The venue filled quickly with eager, chattering fans—nearly one in three of whom were clad in Marillion shirts spanning the band’s career. The affection and anticipation were palpable even before the opening notes of “El Dorado,” but the emotional performance and tight integration of lighting and projection films garnered the band their first standing ovation a mere 15 minutes into the concert. Indeed, after Pete Trewavas’ particularly ambidextrous, funky bass workout on “You’re Gone,” the audience was excited to the point of being a bit noisy and calling out song requests, prompting a huge smile and loving admonishment to “shut up and listen for fuck’s sake” from lead singer Steve Hogarth as the band played “White Paper,” another extended moody piece from 2016’s FEAR album.
Throughout the concert, the sound was superb, with every instrument clear in the mix across all frequencies and no distortion (apart from the occasional slight bit of overdrive on Hogarth’s mic). Steve Rothery’s many guitar solos took full advantage of this crystalline mix as he demonstrated absolute mastery of soaring emotional leads and rarely-matched nuance on the higher end of the fretboard. This was especially apparent on “Season’s End” and the encore performance of “Sugar Mice,” yet another instigator of extended outpourings of audience appreciation. Perhaps the apex of this enthusiasm came in the middle of the first set, as fan-favorite and early single “Kayleigh” segued seamlessly into the keyboard intro of “The Leavers.” While some amongst the band’s hardcore fanbase debate the merits of FEAR as an album, those gathered in Atlanta were thoroughly in the palm of Marillion’s hand throughout the epic performance, and the band received their second and most energetic standing ovation for this piece. Hogarth seemed genuinely taken aback at the forcefulness of the crowd’s affectionate reception.
Anyone who has seen Marillion before will be well-acquainted with their accomplished musicianship and impeccable showmanship; anyone who hasn’t should check out some videos online then immediately buy a ticket to the nearest show (there won’t be a better time to break out those frequent flyer miles!). From Ian Mosley’s powerhouse drumming on “King” and Mark Kelly’s incredible proggy synth solo on “This Strange Engine,” to the aforementioned ubiquitous Rothery guitar leads and Trewavas’ indefatigable rocking out on the bass (as well as his under-lauded backing vocal contributions), to Hogarth’s incomparable vocal control flowing from whispered intensities through mumbled proverbs and into explosive howlings on “The Great Escape” and “The Invisible Man”—every member of Marillion is a virtuoso who knows how to serve the song with subtlety when appropriate and take a moment in the spotlight to wow their audience. Furthermore, the whole band seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves, and their emotional rapport with their fans was apparent. Hogarth was especially playful, as shown in this exchange at the end of the first set:
Hogarth: “We’re going to leave you with this song…”
Crowd, emphatically: “No! No! No!”
Hogarth, coyly: “…possibly…”
Musically, emotionally, and technically, the concert was a singularly impressive experience, worthy of all the superlatives this reviewer can throw its way. Still, with such an accomplished and extensive repertoire, Marillion will never be a band who can just trot out an obvious and universally agreed upon greatest hits/legacy set, so there will always be opportunity for some to wish that this or that favorite song had been played. Even so, Saturday night in Atlanta featured a nicely curated selection of tracks from across the band’s eras, and h noted that they would be changing things up from night to night for the fans attending multiple shows. The live experience dispels any mysteries surrounding the obsessive love that fans have for the band, and Marillion gives back that love in spades. Get in on the love during the few remaining shows on this US tour, and look into the special fan weekend coming up in Montreal in 2019.
El Dorado You’re Gone White Paper Season’s End Kayleigh The Leavers The Great Escape King
Venue: River City Casino, St. Louis, MO – Feb 16th, 2018
Words and Pics by: Jon Fiala
Dennis DeYoung, formerly of the power group Styx, brought his 40th Anniversary of the Grand Illusion to the River City Casino in St Louis Friday, February 16 to a sold out crowd of music lovers whose average age was easily in the 50s.
The setlist was perfect for those wanting to hear classic 70s and 80s Styx as Dennis and his outstanding band played only that, and nothing from any solo albums. St Louis holds a soft spot for Dennis as radio station KSHE, the longest continuous running (50+ years) radio with a rock format was promoting Styx from the very beginning.
Styx’ seventh album, The Grand Illusion, was released on 7/7/77 and is arguably the band’s best album. Growing up in the 70s, that album was a mainstay at parties, and still has its share of plays on classic rock radio.
The first set was the Grand Illusion played in its entirety with no talking spots in between, just as if you’d play it from your CD. Hearing Dennis’ voice on The Grand Illusion, Come Sail Away, Castle Walls, and the Grand Finale was simply outstanding. Unlike many other vocalists from the 1970s, Dennis can still hit everything that he did back on those classic albums.
Dennis’ band can easily hold tight with the classic Styx lineup as they brought to life the familiar Styx sound. Guitarist/vocalist August Zadra did a fantastic job on the Tommy Shaw songs Foolin’ Yourself, Superstars, and Man in the Wilderness while his cohort, Jimmy Leahey did JY’s Miss America some justice.
The rest of Dennis’ band was equally spectacular with Craig Carter on 5-string bass (hitting that low string occasionally brought new life to those songs), John Blasucci took on a lot of the keyboard role that Dennis had played for many years, freeing Dennis up to be center stage. Michael Morales brought his impressive drumming resume to join up with Dennis a couple of years ago. Dennis’ wife of 48 years, Suzanne, was right behind Dennis as a backup singer.
It was an odd feeling that Come Sail Away was only the fourth song of the evening, which most people know is generally Dennis’ closer. However, the first set was simply tremendous. It was very enjoyable to hear my childhood come to life in front of my eyes.
After a 20 minute intermission, Dennis brought even more classic Styx songs out and the crowd got to again to relive songs from the 70s and early 80s. The song that started Styx on their rise, Lady, began the second set, followed by 1975’s Lorelei. A tasty organ solo led into Blue Collar Man. The last album by the classic Styx lineup, 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, had everyone enjoying the whimsical Mr. Roboto as everyone sang along to that very familiar Dennis song. Dennis reminisced writing the #1 hit Babe as being a simple birthday present for his wife, but was thankfully talked into adding to 1979s Cornerstone album. Probably the highlight of the evening was Dennis’ ode to America with Suite Madame Blue, complete with the short instrumental intro Prelude 12. They definitely can rock with the best of them. The evening closed with 1978’s Renegade and finally brought to a close with 1981’s The Best of Times, before reprising the final portion of Come Sail Away again.
Sure, a band could play their most recent album, but with the repertoire that Dennis has in his back pocket, combined with the musicianship of the band that he has put together, it was a great night of just hearing some vintage music by one of the greatest voices in rock and roll. For a simple guy from Chicago, celebrating his 71st birthday this month, Feb 18th, he’s done very well.
Neal Morse released his latest solo album, LIFE & TIMES, today on Radiant Records via Metal Blade Records/SONY on all digital outlets, including Radiant Records’ website, as well as CD and vinyl.
The Stephen Yake/Christian Rios-directed third video from the already critically acclaimed album, “JoAnna,” premiered exclusively on BigTakeover.com. The song is one of 12 slice-of-life portraits composed by MORSE, which focuses on his son dealing with the loss of a relationship. “’JoAnna’ is a very special song to me,” explains NEAL MORSE. “It’s one of those rare times when everything spontaneously comes together…the string arrangement, the pedal steel guitar, the drums and bass so tastefully done. It’s one of the best tracks I’ve ever recorded in my opinion. So excited this album is coming out at this time!”
Morse also released a new song recently as a response to the terrible shooting in Parkland, FL. The song called “What if it was your child?” asks every parent to consider what might happen if nothing is done to stop the awful tragedies that have affected US cities in recent years.
Once again the prog rock world descended upon Tampa, FL in Feb. This time for the 5th Cruise to the Edge, the progressive rock festival on the ocean headlined by Yes, the band for which the cruise is named. Co-headliners Marillion and Steve Hackett returned to the ship, having performed in previous years, providing a wealth of prog royalty to the stages. With bands like Saga playing their final shows since announcing their retirement and the new supergroup Sons of Apollo, debuting as a live act upon the ship, the festivities were sure to please any form of progressive rock fan. Returning as well were cruise regulars Neal Morse, Haken, IO Earth, Dave Kerzner, and Moon Safari, along with a few newcomers in Eric Gillette, and Knifeworld. And this is just a few of the artists that performed. All in all, there were more than 25 performers making this one of the fullest trips yet and creating quite a dilemma for the schedule makers as well as the concert goers.
The ship sailed out of Tampa on Saturday, Feb 3rd on the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas and was scheduled to make two stops in Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico. The addition of a 5th night, previous cruises were 4, offered a bit more breathing room and created anticipation that it would be easier to see more of the bands. As it turns out, a full 2 weeks still might not be enough. There is just too much to see and do. It’s a good problem perhaps, but decisions had to be made, even for someone reviewing the cruise. So we all try to see as much as we could. This began immediately upon the sail away when Glass Hammer kicked of the festivities up on the pool stage, the usual meeting place to begin. The band sounded great and were joined by former member and current Yes lead singer Jon Davison for a few songs including their epic “If the Stars.” Meanwhile, Steve Hackett was performing his first of two shows in the main theater, the Pacifica Theater. Depending on what color assignment you had for the theater shows, determined whether or not you were seeing Glass Hammer by the pool. Hackett’s band was in stellar form opening with a few solo numbers like “Please don’t touch” and “Every day.” One of the highlights certainly had to be the addition of the song he wrote with Steve Howe when they were in the band GTR, “When the heart rules the mind.” The song sounded current and fit right in with the rest of the set. Later, Hackett concluded his show with Genesis classics “Supper’s Ready,” “The Musical Box,” and “Dance on a Volcano.” Already the bar was set too high. After a brilliantly melodic set from Moon Safari, it was off to see a bit of Haken who were treating fans to performances of full albums. On this first show of two on the ship they performed their classic sophomore album Visions. The epic title track had the audience in a trance until the final note.
The most anticipated show of the evening was the very first live show by Sons of Apollo, the new supergroup featuring the unappointed mayor of prog cruises, Mike Portnoy, along with Derek Sherinian, Bumblefoot, Billy Sheehan, and Jeff Scott Soto. The group released their debut album Psychotic Symphony back in Oct 2017, but had yet to play together. The group ran through songs from the album including the epics “God of the Sun,” “Labyrinth,” and “Opus Maximus.” Despite a few kinks, which would be expected for a first performance, the band sounded great and sound the potential of what was yet to come. The show also had a somber moment as lead singer Jeff Scott Soto announced to the audience that he had just learned that his brother had died while he was on the ship. Showing what a fine performer he is, Soto was able to push through and deliver an emotional performance. He did a perfect take on the middle section of the Queen song “The Prophet Song,” and then sang a heartfelt tribute to his brother with another Queen classic, “Save Me.” It was a beautiful moment and one appreciated by all in attendance. The band closed the set with the Dream Theater song “Lines in the Sand” which was fitting for this group as Sherinian and Portnoy were both in that band when this song was first recorded. It was a fine first set and set the stage for their even more anticipated second show later in the cruise.
The second day, a day at sea, began early with competing Q&A sessions from Steve Hackett and Yes, both occurring at the same time. Other Q&A’s from Glass Hammer and Dave Kerzner, and an acoustic set from IO Earth rounded out the morning. Saga were a band many on the ship made time to see, as they had announced these would be some of the final shows before completing their final tour celebrating 40 years. Their pool stage show dominated the early afternoon. After a highly successful turn on last year’s cruise, Focus, were another band that were sure to excite as most went to see them right after Saga. This was followed by Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy which brought the nostalgia to an prog climax. Yes performed their first set in the main theater in the afternoon delivering a set mixed with fan favorites and mega-hits. Original keyboard player Tony Kaye joined the band for a few songs. The encore of the set included “Yours is No Disgrace,” “Roundabout,” and “Starship Trooper.” The Hall of Fame group continue to defy expectations and prove they are here to stay.
Another interesting performance was the late night theater show from Neal Morse. Known for his prog epics, having appeared on previous cruises with Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard, and the Neal Morse Band, no one was sure what to expect from his one-man acoustic show. Using a mix of keys, percussion, acoustic guitars and a sampling device known as a Looper, he quickly showed how one man can turn into a full band with the push of a button. He performed songs from his upcoming singer/songwriter album Life & Times, along with a few songs from previous albums. He commands the stage like very few prog rockers, holding the audience in the palm of his hand with every word, injecting a bit of humor at every turn. Of course, with so many of his fellow bandmates aboard the ship it was not a surprise when he introduced Casey McPherson, Mike Portnoy, and Eric Gillette for the Flying Colors song “The Storm,” and the Neal Morse Band song “Waterfall.” He then brought out one more surprise with Pete Trewavas came out to perform with the rest doing Transatlantic’s “We all need some light.” It turned into one of the more memorable shows on the ship. But that was not all for the night as Dave Kerzner and his incredible band turned in a powerful concert on the pool stage. Playing songs from this two solo albums, Kerzner showed why he has become a staple on these events. Steve Hackett joined him for a rousing rendition of Kerzner’s solo song “Stranded” from his album New World, on which Hackett played on the original recording. It is the joining of guests on each other’s sets that helps elevate these concerts to being so memorable. You don’t see this kind of stuff at regular shows.
Monday was a stop in Belize, so this allowed for some time to sleep in as no bands were performing until the late afternoon. Yes played their second set while singer/songwriter and vocalist for Flying Colors, Casey McPherson did his set in the atrium only joined by cello player, Tony. Playing mostly solo material, with a couple of FC songs thrown in, McPherson showed why he fits right in with the prog crowd as he captivated the audience with his soulful voice and invited them to create a vocal choir for the song “Peaceful Harbor.” Haken performed their second set on the pool stage, this time playing their breakthrough album The Mountain. For those that first knew the band from this album, this set was a true highlight. Singer Ross Jennings has become one of prog’s leading frontman, commanding the stage with ease while the incredible players in the band dazzle with their instruments. Marillion took the final slot of the evening in the main theater playing their album F.E.A.R. in its entirety. For fans of the band, any chance to see this band is appreciated and they again did not disappoint. Hogarth and Rothery delivered epic performances as one would expect.
Amid all the great performances were all the additional events to take in from the art displays of Carl Palmer and Roger Dean to the live broadcast of SiriusXM radio host Eddie Trunk, who made his second trip back to CTTE to broadcast the virtues of progressive rock to his loyal listeners. Each Sons of Apollo member made an appearance, as well as members of Yes, Marillion, and even Prog Report author Roie Avin, who also led a trivia session on the ship in support of the book Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums. Perhaps the most engaging nightly event is the Late Night Live jam put on every year by host Rob Rutz. Dozens of incredible amateur musicians, coming from all over the world, played some of the most challenging prog songs ever cerated and pulled off some amazing performances. Throw in Brook Hansen at the piano bar singing prog classics, or a little Karaoke on the 13th deck for good measure and there is no shortage of additional entertainment on the ship.
Tuesday took the boat to Costa Maya, Mexico. Enchant returned to CTTE and played their first set on the pool stage for plenty of fans that chose to stay on the ship. Playing songs from their classic debut album, A Blueprint of the World, and other great songs from their vast catalog, the group sounded as tight as ever. Ted Leonard’s vocals continue to impress year after year. Great shows were scattered throughout the day from Lifesigns, Gong, and the second theater show by Marillion, this time featuring a mix of songs from thir enormous catalog. Thank you Scientist played their best set of the ship on the pool in the evening showcasing songs from their 2 albums. The band’s new members proved themselves capable of continuing the upward trajectory of this fine group. Meanwhile, in the center of the ship, Neal Morse Band guitarist Eric Gillette made his live debut with 3 members of Haken as his backing band. The guitarist played and sang songs from his prog metal release The Great Unknown to a full audience who had been waiting for this moment for years. The following day he would perform his second set at the pool and be joined by Mike Portnoy on drums for a couple of Dream Theater numbers, “The Root of All Evil,” and “The Dance of Eternity.” There was a lot to choose from the ret of the night with singer/songwriter sets from Casey McPherson followed by Neal Morse, IO Earth in the main theater providing their heavier brand of prog, to the second show from Sons of Apollo, who played a different set than the first night and sounded way more in synch, closing with their hit “Coming Home” to major applause. It was a long and very windy night.
The final day, Wednesday, provided a chance to catch up on a few acts that were missed over the first few days, like as well as a chance to relax from the overwhelming nature of the first 4 days.The day began with a beautiful tribute to John Wetton by the pool with friends and bandmates from Carl Palmer to Dave Kerzner talking and playing a few of John’s songs to the fans that adored his music so much. He was greatly missed on the ship. There was plenty more to see from Saga’s final appearance in the main theater to Adrian Belew Power Trio who mesmerize with their abilities to Lifesigns, who continue to be one of prog’s best kept secrets. Martin Barre, Baraka, Knifeworld, and Bad Dreams filled out another great day of prog. The night concluded with Steve Hackett’s final set followed by Dave Kerzner in the atrium rocking the ship with his solo material, even joined by Geoff Downes for a number.
Aside from the all the music, the main thing to notice is the interaction between the bands and fans, as both are so appreciative to each other. Performers like Mike Portnoy and Steve Hackett freely walk the ship knowing they will be asked to sign something or take a picture every 3 feet, but do so gladly every time. Although I imagine they would like to be left alone for a minute to eat dinner. Over the years, those that continue to return to the cruise, do so not only for the music, but because of the camaraderie with the other fans. These have become close friends and this trip like a family reunionm with many already booking the trip to next year’s sailaway, Feb 4th-9th.
Kudos to all involved form Larry, Gene, Taylor and the rest of the On The Blue team that put this show on together and to all the bands who continue to see this event’s value and provide the ultimate escape to their endlessly loyal fans. See you all next year!
Pics of Neal Morse, Steve Hackett, Sons of Apollo, Yes & Dave Kerzner by Joel Barrios
Concert: G3 with Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Phil Collen
Venue: Parker Playhouse, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 2-1-18
Since its inception in 1995, Joe Satriani’s G3 guitar extravaganza has continuously brought the best guitar players in together all over the world. It has been a celebration of what the instrument and these players are capable of. Satriani has always been the organizer and headliner but the two guitarists that joined the tour each time out have varied from the likes of Eric Johnson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd to Steve Vai and Steve Morse. There have always been surprises as well and this year proved to go that route again with guitarists John Petrucci of Dream Theater and Phil Collen of Def Leppard joining the traveling guitar showcase. Petrucci had been on the tour the most of any guitarists outside of Satriani and Steve Vai, most recently in 2012, but Collen was a new and unexpected entry. With Def Leppard, Collen had guitar solo moments but few had heard him as a instrumental player but he certainly has been known to shred so how he would do in this environment was something to look forward to.
Collen kicked off the set as a trio with the bassist and drummer from his side blues project Delta Deep. They ran through a couple of high speed rockers with Collen blazing through the numbers. They were then joined by extraordinary vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook, the singer for Delta Deep. Blackwell-Cook has a soulful voice, the kind that harkens back to old blues records, while her voice is powerful enough to reach the back row without a microphone. The set continued with a few songs from the debut album by Delta Deep. Songs like “Mistreated” and “Down in the Delta” sounded great and had the crowd on their feet. Collen proved he could stand out of the massive shadow cast by Def Leppard.
John Petrucci took to the stage joined by fellow virtuosos Dave LaRue on bass and his Dream Theater bandmate Mike Mangini on drums. The opened surprisingly with the theme from the recent Wonder Woman movie. Turns out it makes for a very capable Dream Theater-esque tune when placed in Petrucci’s hands. Much of the rest of the set was culled from Petrucci’s only solo instrumental album from 2005 Suspended Animation. Heavy, powerful numbers like “Jaws of Life” and “Damage Control” are tailor made for a concert like this and are perfect representations of Petrucci’s guitar prowess. Petrucci is one of the world’s great guitarists and is a treasure to watch perform live.
After a very brief intermission, Satriani began his set with the first 2 songs from his new album What Happens Next, “Energy” and “Catbot.” The show and the production were a step up from the opening sets but then again, Satriani always puts on an exemplary show. He is a guitar showman as much as a guitar genius. The set was made largely of songs from the new album. Interesting and inventive songs like “Cherry Blossom” and “Thunder High on the Mountain” fit in perfectly and captivated the audience. Of course, he closed the set with his live staples “Always With You, Always With Me” and “Summer Song.” Satriani is a master, but only for what he can play, but how he plays it, as well as the songs he composes. Live, there are few who can compare and this is why he continues to dazzle us year after year.
Of course, no G3 show is complete without a jam session to close things out. The set was made of three rock classics, Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” and “I’m Going Down.” The jam lasted a while but allowed the three guitarists to have some more fun and treat the fans to as much music as possible over a nearly 3 hour night. G3 was as good as ever thanks to these incredible musicians.
Neal Morse kicked off his solo tour on board Cruise to the Edge last week in Tampa performing songs from his upcoming new album Life & Times, out on Feb 16th. The opening song on the ship was a new song called “Songs of Freedom” which is not on any record. But now Morse has released the fully autobiographical song as a video which you can see here:
2/17: Nashville, TN 2/20: Cambridge, MA 2/22: Sellersville, PA 2/23: New York, NY 2/24: Asbury Park, NJ 3/17: Denver, CO 3/22: Decatur, GA 3/23: Charlotte, NC 3/28: Mesa, AZ 3/30: Whittier, CA 4/3: San Francisco, CA 4/5: Portland, OR 4/6: Seattle, WA 4/7: Salt Lake City, UT 4/11: Cleveland, OH 4/12: Evanston, IL 4/13: St. Louis, MO 4/14: Milwaukee, WI 4/18: Quebec City, QUE. 4/19: Montreal, QUE. 4/21: Toronto, ONT.