Waterboys Redux

Vic Theatre - Chicago

March 27, 2001

First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2001, Volume 8, #5

Written by John Metzger

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Fans longing for the return of The Waterboys are in for quite a treat. Not only has the band embarked on their first U.S. tour in ten years — which brought them to Chicago’s Vic Theatre on March 27 — but the group also is planning to release an album of material culled from the recording sessions that yielded their 1988 gem Fisherman’s Blues. That disc (the band’s fourth) was something towards which they had been working for quite some time, and for whatever reason, they really haven’t been the same since. Though The Waterboys’ subsequent Room to Roam was a solid effort, it lacked the spark that made Fisherman’s Blues so great. Shortly thereafter, the band turned away from their folk-oriented sound, leaving only a hodge-podge of generic guitar-rock that often lacked passion. As a result, the band fell off the radar of the U.S. market, prompting their label to opt out of (or at least delay) the American release of their seventh studio album A Rock in the Weary Land.

But there’s nothing quite like a songwriter with his back against the wall. Determined to recapture his group’s early glory, frontman Mike Scott reformed the heart of The Waterboys by reuniting with fiddle wizard Steve Wickham, longtime associates Richard Naiff (keyboard) and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums), and newcomer Jo Wadeson (bass). Utilizing a set list that strongly emphasized material from the new album, the group also delivered a broad cross-section of treasured songs from The Waterboys’ vast repertoire. Though they largely drew from their more straight-forward rock selections, they delivered each with gusto — as if they had something to prove. They muscled their way through the opening Let It Happen, transformed Savage Earth Heart into a rampaging meltdown, and turned the pop tune The Whole of the Moon into a Beatle-esque swirl of kaleidoscopic synthesizer. Likewise, the classic We Will Not Be Lovers featured a titanic duel of guitar and fiddle clashing in a furious dance of love-torn rage, and a seamless merging of The Return of Pan and The Pan Within was framed by Scott’s emotive vocals and his searing lead guitar.

Yet, the band also made a welcome return to more roots-oriented fare, no doubt spurred by the return of Wickham. The Charlatan’s Lament broke ranks with ordinary rock songs by winding its way through a Scottish reel, while the stripped-down When Ye Go Away flirted with becoming an Irish jig. On The Wind in the Wires, Scott and keyboard player Naiff explored traditional folk-oriented fare, and Strange Boat was revved up by the sound of Scott’s electric guitar crashing against the strains Wickham’s aqueous fiddle.

By the time The Waterboys hit the final encore — a blistering Be My Enemy — the audience had been fully won over by the group’s persistently stirring performance. Whether this enthusiasm translates into a resurgence in the group’s popularity remains to be seen, but for one night, at least, The Waterboys had managed to reclaim their legacy.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club opened the show with a bombastic blitz of edgy rock that blended T-Rex, the Stone Roses, and Pavement. As their set wore on, however, each song blurred into the next, and when combined with the group’s virtually indecipherable lyrics, little remained to hold the audience’s attention.

Fisherman's Blues is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

A Rock in the Weary Land is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

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Copyright © 2001 The Music Box