No messing. Just some heads-down no-nonsense post-punk-beat-poet-folk-blues-rock. Simple, really.
Simple because, when you get down to it, The Waterboys kick ass. They get the ball rolling with ‘Destinies Entwined’, from their latest album Modern Blues, featuring muscular guitar and surging organ even before Steve Wickham makes a grand entrance and adds his electric fiddle to the mix. The extra dimension brought by that fiddle is apparent on the following ‘Still A Freak’, with Wickham showing great attack as he conjures up a sound akin to tough slide guitar.
Mike Scott takes to the piano for a journey back in time to ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, which has Wickham pirouetting across the stage, before they offer up two stormy codas, demonstrating the power and gutsiness that’s the hallmark of their sound throughout, propelled along by the rhythm section of Ralph Salmins on drums and David Hood on bass. It’s there again as they blast through ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’, which features a fiddle v guitar duel between Wickham and lead guitarist Zach Ernst.
|Mike Scott and friends - the nearest thing to hip|
‘Nearest Thing To Hip’ cools things down a bit, with some jazzy, Van the Man undertones. Mike Scott takes time to insert a chatty, humorous tribute to the cheap shops and market stalls of Glasgow’s ‘Barras’ district, recalling his spotty youth travelling up from Ayrshire to buy the latest trendy gear with his limited funds.
But it’s on ‘Rosalind’ that the roof really comes off, as they unleash their new secret weapon. Scott and Wickham may be one of those great, idiosyncratic front line pairings, but now they’re augmented by Paul Brown, the co-producer of Modern Blues – aka ‘Brother Paul’ of Memphis, who is a flailing, manic force of nature on keyboards, and evidently having a whale of a time. Coming across like a demented rock’n’roll hybrid of Jerry Lee Lewis, and Christopher Lloyd playing Doc in Back To The Future, he grabs the spotlight with a frenzied solo that feels like he’s ready to climb inside his organ and rip out its innards. It’s symptomatic of his rabble-rousing contribution - and he even chucks in some howling backing vocals just for good measure.
Later they cement their rock’n’roll leanings with a brisk take on ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, before Scott gives full rein to his storytelling abilities on ‘The Return Of Jimi Hendrix’, on which Ernst goes wild with some wailing, distorted guitar. Scott and Wickham go into duo mode for a trip down memory lange with ‘Don’t Bang That Drum’, before bringing the band back for the inevitable ‘Whole Of The Moon’. It’s a solid gold classic of course, on which the whole crowd contributes backing vocals, but to close the set they opt for ‘Long Strange Golden Road’. The ten-minute epic from Modern Blues brings us home with a thumping evocation of Scott’s eager way with beat imagery, with the “wild holy band playing jazz that was outrageous” outstripped by the band’s own rock groove and the inspiring hook of the chorus.
They encore with ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the rattling tune that’s still the prime example of Mike Scott’s folk immersion, with Wickham’s delightful fiddle line complementing Scott’s sea-swept, wind-blown lyrics. And if that’s going back to the source, they end the night with a left turn into ‘Purple Rain’, a surprise choice of cover that they pull off in the most relaxed fashion. We heard the big music tonight, and it sounded pretty damn good