Marillion | photo by Joe Del Tufo for WXPN |

It’s hard to know where to begin reviewing a Marillion show. With over 35 years as progressive rock icons, their live history is overwhelming and complex. Even more so with the release of F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone and Run), their astounding new album that recently debuted #4 in the UK charts, an unprecedented act for an artist this deep into their career. But F.E.A.R. is not just any album, it is perhaps the best album they have written since Steve Hogarth took over as vocalist for Fish in 1989. At once an indictment of Brexit, Greed, Trump and the other powers that press down on us, it is also a much more personal look into the mirror of anxiety and disconnection. It is has teeth and is unflinching, musically and lyrically. For me F.E.A.R. is hands down the best album of 2016 which is nothing short of shocking – the equivalent of The Who suddenly releasing an album as good as Quadrophenia in 2016.

It’s been over four years since Marillion was last in Philadelphia, in support of a solid album called Sounds That Can’t Be Made. Opening with the 15-minute monster “Invisible Man,” it was clear that this was a calculated tone. With the band on stage, vocalist Steve Hogarth was projected onto a large and stuttering screen behind them, sing-speaking “the world’s gone mad / and I’ve lost touch / I shouldn’t admit it but I have / it slipped away while I was distracted“ a perfect window into the material that would follow. It was one of four tracks that clocked in over 15 minutes of their 2+ hour set.

Stepping in the F.E.A.R. tracks, the band selected the most optimistic track to begin, “Living In F.E.A.R.” With the repeated “we’ve decided to start melting our guns, as a show of strength,” the song is about choosing trust in the face of darkness and dishonesty. It’s essentially a protest song turned on its head. “The apple pie cooling on the window sill is such a welcome change, to living in fear, year after year.” “The New Kings” soon followed pushing 20 minutes in length, a teeth-bared and fists clenched indictment of the 1%, both in the US and the UK. It was the first time I’d ever witnessed anyone stand and leave a Marillion show, as I saw a well-dressed and out-of-place couple unhappily stepping out as a massive “Greed Is Good” projection filled the screen and Hogarth ranted about bankers and corporations and the disconnect between the haves and have-nots. It is a confronting song, perhaps never as much as with the conspiracy-ridden line “we saw the crash on the news today, oh boy. But did it really happen?”

The band were tight and in classic form – guitar hero Steven Rothery’s solo soaring in post-Floyd glory, Pete Trewavas’ bass lines sounding as nimble and emotive as ever, keyboardist Mark Kelly connecting and conducting the waves to and fro and drummer Ian Mosely’s God of Thunder sticks as vital as ever. Vocalist Steve Hogarth is a rare and incredibly cinematic frontman, and he was in top form. It was a phenomenal show, perhaps a little light in crowd support but it’s all relative. Having experienced some of the historic Montreal shows the band put on every few years, a Marillion crowd is a very high bar. The encores drifted out of the weight of F.E.A.R. and into older classics like the Fish-era “Sugar Mice” and the always wonderful “Easter,” which contains one of the best guitar solos in the band’s history.

John Wesley opened the show with solo tracks from his also excellent new album A Way You’ll Never Be. His new material begs for a full band, but any set of music in any form from him is always welcomed. And A Way You’ll Never Be is definitely a top 10 album for 2016.

The Invisible Man
Sounds That Can’t Be Made
Living in F E A R
Fantastic Place
The New Kings
El Dorado: I. Long-Shadowed Sun
El Dorado: II. The Gold
El Dorado: III. Demolished Lives
El Dorado: IV. F E A R
El Dorado: V. The Grandchildren of Apes
Sugar Mice
Three Minute Boy