8 Oct 2001: Manchester Academy Manchester, England
For a band that has been through so much in its 10 year lifespan, it is a touch surprising to see the Rev saunter onto the stage looking fit, healthy and most of all, happy. From the very outset it is plain to see that this is a band not just happy to be here, but happy to be alive. Jonathan looks resplendent in jeans and satin shirt, whilst Grasshopper rocks the VU look with wraparound shades and black jeans.
As the six-strong Rev hurtle into the opening song “Funny Bird” it is also abundantly clear that we are in for an evening of intense musical passion, with Jonathan’s voice rippling through the Academy like the twisted son of Neil Young, and Jeff Mercel hitting crisp beats against Grasshopper’s fluid guitar lines.
With the All Is Dream couplet of “Tides of the Moon” and “Chains” following on, it is also obvious this isn’t going to be a night for the older Rev-heads, and this is borne out over the near two-hour set, with only three songs coming from before their Deserters Songs LP. A shame though this may be (they completely omit any Boces or See You on the Other Side material) the newer, softer Rev are obviously better equipped to deal with the pressures of recording and touring, as evidenced by the big, stoner grins worn by the whole band during “Car Wash Hair” midway through the epic set.
The problem the band have often faced since their transformation from noiser-than-thou psychedelic rocketeers into cinematic neo-Band troubadours, has been translating their carefully orchestrated sound from the recording studio onto the live stage. They have no such problems here, with the dual keyboards providing everything that is needed to flesh out the newer, imaginary-movie soundtracks like “Nite and Fog” and “The Dark Is Rising”. Only Deserters classics “Holes” and “Delta Sun” sound like they are missing the studio wizardy of Dave Fridmann, but they, just like the rest of the set, more than make up for this with the amount of sheer emotion coming from Jonathan’s cracked falsetto.
Emotion is the key tonight, as is to be expected from a band whose recent output has centered around themes of unrealized dreams, sadness, and above all, the fact that things rarely, if ever, turn out the way you planned. Listening to Jonathan pouring out his soul on stage could’ve become like watching the freaks at the circus, but such is the quality of songwriting that never once do you feel things are getting too self indulgent or pretentious. Hearing songs like “Little Rhymes” (“And when I’m alone and scared, I think up little rhymes, they would make no sense to you, but I make them all the time”) and “Goddess On A Highway” (“And I know, it ain’t gonna last”) the whole audience has a perfect frame of reference to understand and empathize with the band, which seems to add to their buoyant mood.
After leaving the stage with an immense version of “Opus 40” that seamlessly melts into a free-form version of the Talking Heads classic “Once in a Lifetime”, the band give us the customary five minutes to shout and clap before strolling back on to play a four song encore.
As the final psychedelic swirl of “Chasing a Bee” dies down, a chair is brought out and Jonathan entertains us with his otherworldly bowed-saw sounds before kicking into the two bookends of the new album. Grasshopper’s rolling guitar riff pulls the eight minute opus “Hercules” onward and upwards as the tale unfolds from getting “the feeling that your mind is not your own” to finding out that “what appears as your shadow is as formless as a mist” and ultimately “all is one, all is mind, all is lost all is dream”, before exploding into the kind of orchestrated mayhem only the Rev can pull off in this day and age.
After the genius of “Hercules” it is perhaps surprising to find “The Dark Is Rising” as the choice to finish off this triumphant evening. But after the first cymbal crash it is apparent it could never be any other way. Jonathan conducts the band whilst simultaneously putting everyone’s fears, hopes and dreams into one five minute blast of catharsis. And then, slowly bringing his hands together to stop the waves of sound crashing around him, Jonathan signals the end of a truly remarkable evening.
So Mercury Rev have finally become the band they, and we, always wanted them to be, and they’ve achieved some sort of happiness with it. Tonight it showed.