Pigpen's Birthday

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Featuring the same set list that permeated most of Fish's first solo outing after his split from Marillion, Pigpens Birthday is an impressive live DAT recording (released on two CDs) taken from the singer's second sold out show at London's legendary Hammersmith Odeon in April of 1990. Surrounding himself with perhaps the finest band of his entire solo career, the Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors touring unit features keyboard man Mickey Simmonds, guitarists Robin Boult and Frank Usher, and a first-rate rhythm section courtesy of brothers Mark and Steve Brzeziscki on drums and bass, respectively. Relishing in the high of the moment (these shows would mark the first time that Fish would sell out the Hammersmith Odeon as a solo artist), the show is heavy on the Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors material but also dips into Marillion's rich back catalog. Opening with "Voyeur (I Like to Watch)," Fish is in command from the word go. By the evening's second number, "Punch & Judy," you can already hear the audience excitement build as the Scot leads his London audience through the evening's first chant and response session. Fish then dedicates the touching "Family Business" to "...people being hurt...when you hear the pain and you can't turn away...." It's a splendid rendition. By the time the band launches into the nine-plus minute opus "Assassing," the mood in the room has turned positively euphoric. The punters are ebullient as they watch Dick lead his band through a spirited version of the old Marillion war-horse. "The Company" sounds resplendent in what appears to be a slightly more understated version of the song -- highlighted by some amazing Brzeziscki hi-hat playing that gives even Stewart Copeland a good run for his money. "Script for Jester's Tear" is also altered as Fish bypasses the classic "So here I am once more..." intro. "Script" then explodes into a seven-minute catharsis giving way once again to some extraordinary drumming. Disc one comes to an end with the tender "A Gentleman's Excuse Me" -- another Vigil classic. After a short band introduction, Fish gets back to work launching straight into Marillion's "Sugar Mice" (erroneously credited as track three on the ramshackle CD packaging). Again, rethought from its original version, this newer take is heavy on intertwining acoustic guitars. "Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors" is accompanied by some massive soccer stadium-type clapping just before it ascends into its initial chorus. The classic Misplaced Childhood trio of "Kayleigh," "Lavender," and "Heart of Lothian" are greeted like long-lost friends. The set winds down with "Cliché," "Big Wedge," and the evening's final singalong, "Internal Exile" (taken from the Edinburgh Playhouse gig from March of the same year. It was mysteriously cut off from the original Hammersmith DAT). Notwithstanding, Pigpen's Birthday is an excellent introduction to the live Fish experience. Always entertaining, always forthright, and always full of surprises, the singer would go on to release no less than a dozen concert recordings in the ensuing years, however, this one captures not only Fish at the peak of his solo career but also his stellar band in the rarest of forms.

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