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After a very long absence from these shores (prior to September 2004, they hadn't toured America since 1997), it seems like everytime I turn around lately Marillion is back on this side of the Atlantic.

The 25-year-old British progressive rock band has been without a record label for a number of years now, preferring to do the "work" of releasing and promoting albums themselves — aided by their very supportive fans.  The last two studio albums have essentially been paid for by those fans, who purchased sufficient numbers PRIOR to the band recording even a single note.  These preorders gave Marillion the opportunity to take the time in the studio to produce arguably their finest material to date.  The sales of last year's release, the double-album Marbles, also allowed the band to self-promote the album on such a scale that they were able to propel two singles into the upper reaches of the British charts — a feat virtually impossible for an independent band without the heavy machinery of a major label's marketing team.

Thus, they were able to make a brief tour of North America last September and October and even see some profit from those shows (which ranged in size from the 450-capacity Fox Theatre in Boulder to around 1,500 in some of the East Coast venues).  It's very expensive for British groups to tour the U.S. without record company support when you factor in the transport costs, visa fees, self-promotion, etc.  The previous North American tour — in 1997 — only came about when some enterprising fans began a tour fund, eventually raising enough money to pay for the band to come over and tour.

The crowds at last year's shows convinced Marillion that they could no longer ignore the American (and Mexican and Canadian) fans and swore to play shows here anyway they could.  We were rewarded by a brief acoustic mini-tour in June by three-fifths of the band (billing themselves "Los Trios Marillos").  These gigs were very well-received, although they did concentrate on the Northeast Corridor (the farthest west they got was a show in Chicago).

Following that brief return to America, the full band played some large festival dates in Europe and began scheduling shows for their "Not Quite Christmas" tour in November and early December.  I was halfway thinking about trying to make the final show of that tour, in London, two days following my 40th birthday.

Then, last week, an e-mail arrived from Lucy Jordache — the band's communication's director (she first met the band in 1997 when she worked for EMI Records and was in charge of coordinating the remastering of their back catalogue; she walked away from the big company to work with the newly-independent band a few years later).  The question was "If 'Los Marillos' were to play a few shows on the West Coast in early September, would there be sufficient interest?"  Posted on a number of online message boards and e-mail lists (along with the cities they could play on such short notice), this e-mail brought a lot of positive responses (along with the usual round of "why can't you play in such-and-such a town?").

And, in a flash, the most recent U.S. tour of (3/5) Marillion has now been scheduled:

9/6:  Solana Beach, CA - Belly Up Tavern
9/7:  West Hollywood, CA - Key Club
9/9:  Santa Ana, CA - Galaxy Theatre
9/11: San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall
9/14: Portland, OR - Aladdin Theatre
9/16: Seattle, WA - Chop Suey
Tickets should be available through Ticketmaster by the end of the week.  They also plan signing sessions in local record stores along the way (which they usually accompany with brief acoustic sets); these should also be announced within the next week or so.

I'm not certain yet whether I'll try to attend any of these shows; XM Radio broadcast a 60-minute in-studio live set by the trio a few nights ago (it was recorded at the end of the June mini-tour) and it sounded great (they performed some very interesting choices, including "Fantastic Place" from Marbles).  Among other things, my friend Bryan is getting married at the end of September and I'm still torn whether or not I'll fly to Kansas City for that.  Although I do have some money right now, it's almost as if I'm afraid to spend any of it (I REALLY need to buy a new vehicle); instead, I've been searching online for high-interest money markets and CD's to deposit cash into.

But I do owe myself something "special"; going to San Francisco or Seattle for a show (and a bit of sightseeing) will be A LOT less expensive than going to London in December (and warmer, too!).  I can do this trip on a tight budget (especially since Southwest has some great deals on airfare right now).  My friend Mike in Montana (who I met at the Boulder Marillion show last September) is seriously thinking about going to the Seattle show (being on a Friday night ties in with my schedule as well).  We'll see...

But at least a band I love — my favorite group of musicians, in fact — is enjoying some level of "success" on this side of the Atlantic.  I'm very happy for that, whether or not I get to see them play live again (or talk to the various members again).  (And if I don't get out to the West Coast for this tour, at least all of the shows in June were recorded and one was even filmed — for various future releases!)