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I managed to come down with a bad cold upon arriving home (due to the change from temperatures in the 50's and 60's to the 90's) and haven't felt much like writing the past couple of days.  I still don't, but I need to get the events of last week down before I forget them.  At least I took notes during much of the trip.

Sept. 13:  Albuquerque to Portland
I left for the Albuquerque International Sunport fairly early in the morning, about two hours before my flight was scheduled to take off, to avoid heavy traffic.  That strategy didn't work as it was bumper-to-bumper at 6:30 already, particularly near the Fairgrounds.  It was also poor timing as when the airport road veered West towards the terminal and long-term parking, the Sun was level with my eyes making it difficult to see.  I actually missed the turn-off to the parking lot and had to take a long detour to try again.  Luckily, I had no problems with Security (I almost always get picked for one of the "random" searches at least once on every trip; it didn't happen at all during this journey).

Once on the plane, we taxied out to the edge of the east runway and then ended up sitting on the ground for almost 45 minutes due to congested traffic over Phoenix!  I never had that happen to me before at the Albuquerque airport as it's rarely very busy.  Finally airborne, we made up some time and then had to stay in a holding pattern for another 30 minutes or so.  The pilot said there was no extra charge for the "scenic tour" of Phoenix.  My two-hour connection had become one of just 20 minutes by the time we pulled up to the gate.  A run through the terminal of the Sky Harbor and I was at my departure gate just in time for them to begin loading.  At least I'd checked-in and printed my boarding pass early that morning so my "A" pass allowed me to board fairly early (always a concern as I have a carry-on bag just barely under the size limit and it can be difficult to wedge into an overhead compartment if there are already bags up there).

I settled into a window-seat just behind the wing on the left-hand side of the 737-500 and a very nice elderly couple took up the two other seats.  The lady told me they were returning from Arkansas where they had attended the funeral of her sister.  She was very chatty, which made the time go much quicker (it was just under a three-hour flight to Portland); everytime I board a plane, I always wish for someone nice to sit next to me — this was the first time that I've had that pleasure.  A young woman with a toddler sat in the row in front of us; the child provided some additional in-flight entertainment by playing peek-a-boo with us.  The bad part was (just as I drifted off to sleep later in the flight) when the mother changed the youngster's diaper right there in the seat causing creating a terrible smell (woke me right up).  In all of my flights, I have never known anyone to not use the bathroom for such a task.

Landing in Portland, I was immediately impressed with the amount of trees surrounding the airport.  Deplaning, I got slightly disoriented while looking for the MAX Light-Rail station (near the baggage claim).  The trip into the city was very enjoyable on the train.  I transferred to a bus near the minor league baseball stadium and then had a short walk to my hotel (which was nestled in the hills on the west side of Portland, very near Washington Park).

Upon arrival at the hotel, I was surprised to see the lobby was closed.  However, there was a sign in the window saying the lobby was only open from 6am to 2pm (I'd arrived at 2:15), and that their sister property across the street would handle check-ins.  I did that and received the key-card for my second story room which was very large (including a HUGE bathroom) and even had a refrigerator.  I was VERY impressed with the hotel which was in a very pleasant and quiet neighborhood full of historic houses (most of which were now bed & breakfast establishments) and giant trees.  Not too bad for $39 per night!

After a quick shower and change of clothes, I walked down the hill approximately five minutes to the offices of World Endeavors where I talked to several former volunteers as well as my own volunteer coordinator.  I was given the news that the State Department is now discouraging Americans to avoid going to Nepal because of the current unrest with the Maoist terrorists.  However, the Maoists aren't targeting tourists or relief workers at all so they aren't very concerned.  It does mean that a Nepal-based NGO needs to handle my assignment; in my case, that means the Rural Community Development Program of Kathmandu will be my employer.  In the time-frame that I was anticipating (mid-December), they had several administrative positions in the capitol available as well as orphanage work near Pokhara.  My current thinking is that it might be best to wait several months (or perhaps as long as a year) to give me more time to prepare; it seems like I have a ton of TESL manuals to wade through, not to mention I'd like to do more study on Nepali language, history, and culture before departing.  When I go, I do plan to go for three months and I'd like to be in better shape as well (all the hill-climbing I did in Seattle brought that point home to me).  I need to make a definite decision by the end of next week.

Sept. 13: MARILLION In-Store, Portland
It was now about 4:00 so I walked a few short blocks up 23rd Street to Music Millennium, the site of that evening's in-store acoustic set & autograph session by Marillion.  Along the way, I was very impressed by the number of interesting shops and eateries with sidewalk dining.  It definitely had a European feel about it.  I found the record store easily because of the large marquee overhanging the entrance (which I snapped a few photos of).

Music Millennium was the only in-store on this brief tour not held at a Tower Records; in fact, it reminded me of some of the independent record stores I used to haunt while living in Kansas City —places like Capers Corners where I used to buy concert tickets twenty years ago and which was where I first read the review in Kerrang magazine that led me to discover Marillion in the first place.

The (rather large) stage was set against the wall in the back of the store, with two sofas and two large chairs (all covered in kind of a purple crushed velvet) immediately in front.  I was only the second person to arrive and I took the left chair (very comfortable).  Colin and Roderick were checking the sound levels and I chatted with the fan sitting in the chair to my right.  By showtime, the crowd had expanded nicely; I fielded a lot of comments about my shirt (I was wearing one of the tour shirts I'd had printed, the one with the dates on the back) and people seemed impressed I'd come up from New Mexico for the show.

Shortly after six, a female employee of the store came up and announced Marillion and the trio walked up onstage.  As this was the first time I'd used my new camera, I managed to take a few blurry photos until I got the settings right.  The first song was "Don't Hurt Yourself" from 2004's Marbles, during which bassist Pete Trewavas plays acoustic guitar.  Someone in the audience called out, "I thought you played bass" and Pete responded, "I got demoted!"  "80 Days" and "The Answering Machine" followed.

Singer Steve Hogarth ("h") was in a playful mood throughout; following "Answering Machine", he decided the sofas looked mighty comfortable so he laid down on one — stretched out across the legs of a girl and her boyfriend — with the intention of singing the next song from that position!  However, the microphone cable wasn't quite long enough so he retreated to the stage where he sat on the edge to sing a beautiful version of "Easter" (featuring one of my favorite Steve Rothery guitar solos).  Following that fourth song, the band said they would be back out in a few minutes to sign autographs.

As I was putting away my camera & video gear, I didn't notice how long the signing line had become (there were around 50 people there for the set).  I managed to get in towards the end of the line.  Steve, Pete, and h came out and sat behind the counter to the right of the cash register and took the time to talk to each fan.  When it was my turn, h said, "Ah, you were at Boulder -- I want to apologize for that show, mate.  I was in a bad mood that night."  (I don't want to go into details, I've written extensively about what had happened on the official forum and various mailing lists, but let's just say it was the shortest show of the entire Marbles tour, songs were dropped from the setlist, and the band felt very bad afterwards and have been working to make up for it.)  I told him that was okay, I'd heard the reasons through the grapevine, and what they did play was great.  I also said the only song I'd really missed was "Estonia" and was looking forward to hearing it live someday.  h said it would be a hard one to do in the trio format.

I also told h how the London show that's ending the tour is on my 40th birthday and he said if I came out for that he'd put me on the guest list.  At that, Pete, sitting next to h, said that a trip to London for the show would be the perfect birthday present (as well as making up for Boulder).  Just like that, it was all arranged!  I was in such a daze then that I didn't talk much to Rothers at all (I talked to both Pete and him more than anybody else in Colorado).  I'd gotten my preorder deluxe edition of Marbles signed, as well as one of the postcards I'd made, so I chatted with a couple of people I'd met at the store and then walked back to the hotel.

I called my sister in Kansas and friends in Kansas and Montana to quickly tell them about the events of the day before laying on the bed watching television the rest of the evening.  I was exhausted, having had very little sleep the night before, and planned to sleep in a bit the following morning before beginning the long day of sightseeing.

Sept. 14: Portland Sightseeing
Wednesday was a day of taking public transportation, wandering the pleasant streets of Portland, and of taking photos.  I slept in a bit that morning before riding down Salmon Street to the University District (my hotel was near 23rd Street and I began my walking on 2nd).  After checking out some of the interesting buildings in that area, I took a bus over to the Aladdin Theatre where Marillion would be performing that evening so I could check out the lay-of-the-land.  That area seemed a bit desolate (very few nearby restaurants, for example) so I snapped a picture of the theatre's marquee and took another bus back across the river to the Bus Mall downtown.  This is a nice tree-lined lane which is reserved exclusively for city buses (southbound on 5th, northbound on 6th); this is part of the extensive "Fareless Square" where all public transportation is free.

However, Portland has very short city blocks (half-blocks, really — rumored to have originally been plotted this way because developers could sell corner lots for more money) with plenty of shady trees and interesting shops so it was well-suited for walking.  I had no real goal in mind, other than a visit to the famous Powell's City Of Books (the world's largest bookstore — covering an entire square block on multiple levels), so I just wandered around looking for interesting subject to photograph.

At lunchtime, I went into the depths of Pioneer Square looking for Powell's dedicated Travel Store and instead found a large food court.  Having not had anything to eat since the bag of peanuts on the flight the day before, I decided to have a meal at California Crisp.  I ate an excellent turkey sandwich (with cranberry sauce) and the best potato salad I'd had in years (only Mom's tops it).  After eating, and people-watching at Pioneer Courthouse Square, I took photos of several interesting old churches and made my way up to Burnside and Powell's.  I got lost inside this massive bookstore after turning the first corner but soon found an information desk where I picked up one of the color-coded maps.  I spent much of my time looking for a good Nepali phrasebook (alas, couldn't find one that came with tapes or CD's) and a detailed map of Nepal.  I also purchased a guidebook to the "hidden" Portland.  It's a great bookstore overall, but I still think Albuquerque's Page One has a better selection of magazines.

After some more wanderings downtown (almost making it to Chinatown), I decided to take the light rail up to Washington Park.  The station there is the deepest train station in the United States; I thought by going there, I could take the Zoo Train across to the Japanese Garden where the views down to Portland are said to be spectacular.  However, once there I found out that I would have had to pay the admission price to the zoo plus the train fare (my Metro pass didn't cover the Zoo Train).  As it was getting on in the afternoon by this time, I decided to just walk up to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and take a few photos there before heading back to the hotel.

From the nearest train station back to my hotel was only four blocks or so, but it was up what is probably the steepest hill in the city.  I arrived in time to take a quick shower before heading back out to the Aladdin Theatre (I wanted to get there by six o'clock; the doors for the evening's concert were due to open at seven and I wanted to be able to get a good place in line for the general admission show).

Sept. 14: MARILLION - Aladdin Theatre, Portland
When I arrived at the theatre, there was only one other person in line; he recognized me from the signing session the evening before.  As always, it was nice to talk to a fellow fan about this band we love so much — how they are so appreciative of the fans and how everyone in the Marillion organization bend over backwards to make sure the devoted are rewarded at each and every opportunity.  By the time the doors opened an hour later, the line stretched out behind me all the way to the interersection (the Alladin sits about a third down the block) and around the corner.

We were pleased to find regular threatre-style seating (this venue was a former vaudeville house) rather than an open floor like many other places they had been playing.  I secured a seat in the front row, dead center.  With nobody in front of me, I was looking forward to just sitting and enjoying the music.

Prior to this gig, the only thing I new about opening act Jason Hart is that he's the keyboard player in Rufus Wainwright's band (Steve Hogarth is a HUGE fan).  For this tour, he played keyboards and sang with no other accompaniment.  He only played four songs (same setlist at each show), but two of the songs were EXTREMELY long (the first must have been close to the 15-minute mark).  The songs were in a progressive-rock style with complicated time signatures and oodles of notes.  I liked what I heard and definitely could envision different instruments in different sections when he gets around to recording the songs.  He was selling his debut CD in the lobby after the show (released just a month before he had already moved away from the singer-songwriter pop style evident on most of those songs), which I did buy and have him autograph.

Jason's setlist was:

Round And Round
And I Awaken
(featuring what he called his "Mark Kelly Tribute")
Different Strings/Crucify (the latter being covers of the Rush and Tori Amos songs, respecively)
After the briefest of pauses between the two acts, Steve Hogarth soon appeared onstage by himself, sporting a rather mischievious grin.  He sat down at his keyboard and launched into a superb solo version of "The Hollow Man" from 1994's masterpiece Brave (my favorite Marillion album).  h was clearly enjoying himself and had a silly smile throughout the show.  He followed the opening number with a solo "Cover My Eyes" (the middle portion of which featured several lines from Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting") before saying, "Please welcome to the stage the extraordinary and peculiar Pete Trewavas.

As Pete got himself situated at his bass guitar position, h gave the first real indication that it would be a highly unusual evening.  He hasn't really been known as a great "talker" during Marillion concerts but on those rare occasions when he does talk to the audience you do know it's directly from the heart — that he feels the emotions he's expressing and genuinely wants to share them.  He definitely does not have a set script of introductions that he repeats night after night like some performers (former Marillion vocalist Fish and Paul McCartney spring immediately to mind).  Anyway, he gave a very lengthy and detailed description of the story behind the next song, the old B-side "The Bell In The Sea."  However, he did give a disclaimer that he may have gotten some of the facts wrong because, as he put it, he was "cabbage."

Following that third song, my all-time favorite guitarist, Steve Rothery came onstage and the trio (aided with some samples from h's laptop) launched into "Genie" from last year's Marbles album after which came "Dry Land" in a brand-new arrangement.  Someone yelled out "thanks for playing an older song", to which Hogarth responded, "You think that's old?  Well, this is ancient history then" before Rothers began the guitar intro to "Sugar Mice" from 1987's Clutching At Straws.  After two more songs from Marbles, h told a very long story about how they recorded the Brave album in a castle/chateau in the south of France, stringing microphones everywhere (including from the arrow slits from one tower to those of another).  The superb "Runaway" was then played.

The show got looser and looser as time went on.  At one point, h called for the audience to heckle him; the usual response is that the crowd call out for songs from the earliest days of the band or demand the return of Fish.  However, in Portland there were a few calls for relatively recent songs (I remember hearing both "Angelina" and "Born To Run") so Steve berated us, "That's not how to heckle.  You need to yell 'Fish', you need to yell 'Grendel'."  When the audience took him up on his instructions, he then amazed us all by singing a couple of lines from "Grendel" itself!  This was the 19-minute B-side to the band's very first single in 1982 and a song which they have all refused any association with since early 1984.  h told us, "It's scary that I know that one, actually".  An understatement, to say the least!

Following the next full song ("Go!"), Rothery changed to bass while Pete picked up an acoustic guitar.  Rothers took a bit longer than usual to get in tune but when he did, the trio broke into a nice bit of jazzy jamming which went on a couple of minutes.  In the silence that followed, I yelled out from my position right below h's keyboards (in my best Cockney accent), "Was that a bit of 'Circular Ride, then?" using the name of one of the previously-unheard new songs that the band is currently working on in the studio.  Hogarth got a very funny look on his face and then leaned over to whisper to Pete and then directed Rothery on what key he should be in.  After a few seconds, they broke into a very interesting-sounding riff and jammed a bit on that for about a minute.  I was told by one of the crew later that, yes, we had been treated to the world premier of a bit of what could be the title track of the new album (or series of EP's as plans seem to be shaping up for).

In my notebook at this point (I was jotting down comments between taking photos and just watching), it says "kill their cats" which was a line from another funny story h told at this point.  For the life of me, I can't remember anything else about this particular intro, other than it led into "Marbles" and "Don't Hurt Yourself."  After "Afraid Of Sunlight", h managed to break a piece of his inner-ear monitor (which he also did last year in Boulder but was in a much better mood about it this time around), commenting on how much these pieces of equipment cost while Colin helped fix it.  Prior to playing a completely different arrangement of 1989's "Easter" (different even to the version they played the night before at Music Millennium), Steve told a long story about how when he first joined the band they all stayed out at a mushroom farm in the middle of rural Buckinghamshire getting to know each other.  He was talking about the music they were making and said they "made everything but love," receiving the funniest look I've ever seen from Rothery.

Just before starting "The Answering Machine," Hogarth called attention to a couple who were walking up the aisle to sit in a row further from the stage.  It was very funny as he was asking "We weren't that smelly, were we?" and asking if the view was better from their new seats.  He ended the song with a longer-than-usual ad lib on the "bugs don't bite" line, singing "the band don't bite, we don't smell."

My favorite part of the show was when Rothery came out for the encore by himself and played the intro. to the excellent "Ocean Cloud" (everyone's favorite song from Marbles, the full 20-minute song has only been performed in it's entirety three times).  Following several minutes of outstanding electric guitar work, h snuck back onstage, motioning to the audience to keep quiet.  He and Pete took their positions, and the first third of "Ocean Cloud" was played and sung before sequeing seemlessly into "Enlightened."  I can't wait for an official release of this medley (even better if they filmed it one night and release a DVD!).

 The last song of the evening was the tour debut of 1995's "Beautiful", dedicated to a local fan who'd requested it earlier.

The full performed setlist (minus the stories and ad libs) was:
The Hollow Man
Cover My Eyes/Cloudbusting
The Bell In The Sea
Dry Land
Sugar Mice
Fantastic Place
You're Gone
The Space...
Marbles I
Don't Hurt Yourself
Afraid Of Sunlight
This Is The 21st Century
The Answering Machine
Ocean Cloud/Enlightened
When the house lights came back up, I went to talk to Roderick at the mixing board (who'd also recorded the show, as he does everynight).  I told him that was too loose of a show to ever release and he said that it certainly would show them in a different light rather than the reputation that they are always proper and serious.  He did tell me that the decision would be entirely left up to the band for a Front Row Club release of several of the Los Trios shows but that they would almost definitely release a Racket Records CD using two or three songs from each gig.

While waiting for the band to come out to talk to their fans (as they almost always do), I went to the lobby to talk to Jason Hart and tell him how much I enjoyed his set.  We talked about the band Kansas and of Tori Amos (he's a big fan of both and was interested to hear of my connections with them) and I had him sign a copy of his CD for me.

By this time, Marillion had returned to the stage in the theatre, Pete and Rothery talking to fans at stage right and Hogarth holding court on the left side.  As I had always more to the other two in Boulder, I decided to hang out with h this time.  As soon as he saw me, he told me that he'd put me into his calendar on the computer earlier that day so not to worry — my London birthday celebration is all systems go!  I then told him that I was amazed they performed "The Space" that night because while I'd been waiting for a bus to bring me to the theatre, I'd seen one of the fancy Portland trams almost run into a car that went through a red light (the song was originally written after Steve had seen a tram run into a car in Amsterdam and just keep on going).

The crowd, the crew, and the other two-thirds of the band on this tour dispersed gradually and I found myself the only one left in the theatre with h — an odd feeling, to say the least.  To have been a huge fan of Marillion since 1984, but only (finally) being able to see them perform live for the first time less than a year before was remarkable enough.  But to be able to just sit there casually talking to a genuine musical hero of mine late into the night was simply amazing to me.  That's the kind of band Marillion is, however.  All of it's members (and the crew, office staff, etc.) are just so kind and giving of their time.  They genuinely make you feel like a part of the family; they are dedicated to us which makes us devoted to them.  It's a two-way street and they definitely do not take that for granted.  We probably could have stayed there talking until the sun came up if it weren't for the fact that I had to catch the last bus back to my hotel (much too far to walk, and you need to call & reserve taxi cabs in Portland).

Thus, Portland's Marillion concert was a very satisfying experience for me — just as much for what happened off-stage as the performance itself.  I knew I was too wound-up to get any sleep that night (and I faced a very early check-out so I could catch my train up to Seattle).  It was only Wednesday (well, early Thursday) and I still had the tour-ending show to look forward to (Marillion is famous for making real "events" out of the last gigs of any given tour).

To be continued....