The Big Music is back. Now Mike Scott calls it “sonic rock” (there is no flesh-and-blood saxophonist these days) as he has come full circle in crafting large-scale sounds, his retreat to embrace Irish folk music apparently a thing of the past. Whatever caused him to fall in love with full-tilt rock again, his new attitude is as electrifying as a sermon from a fire and brimstone preacher, one who alas, has little concept of pacing or stopping to rest.
Looking like Mick Jagger from the Black and Blue era, Scott and his latest incarnation of Waterboys (one “boy” being a feminine Jo Wadeson on bass) have started a U.S. tour to rock, and support an album called A Rock in the Weary Land. On this, the third show of the tour, Scott strolled onstage in a violet velvet jacket and nearly spit out the title of the new album, holding true to his promise to play a fair share of tunes from the most recent release.
When they opened with “Let It Happen”, a hard rock tale of walking in the wasteland of London and accepting things for what they are, one could see how this band—which always had a shifting lineup—was once considered a contender for U2’s title of Big Christian Rock Group. Thankfully Scott does not proselytize directly, letting his songs (“The Charlatan’s Lament”, “Dumbing Down the World”, “Is She Conscious?”) do the talking for him. Early on, a standout was “Malediction”, its acoustic tale of vengeance transformed into a blistering whirlwind, with Scott screaming the words of the final line “my enemies you pimps and thieves, prepare to meet your nemesis at laaaaaaaaaasst” for full effect.
As someone whose masterpiece—the folky fiddle-laden, Celtic-influenced “Fisherman’s Blues”—was apparently a quirky success whose formula Scott did not intend to follow forever, the head Waterboy now has the task of rectifying his past and present muses to satisfy a fickle audience. And this he does fairly well, honoring his past by playing a smattering of early songs, but concentrating on the newer songs, a fair enough blueprint if the full ensemble could take a sonic breather once in a while. The first half-dozen songs were directly off the new album, before violinist Steve Wickham played the sweet intro to “Fisherman’s Blues” and the band seemingly were lost in reverie as much as the audience. Wickham, who co-wrote the song with Scott, physically spun in circles before its conclusion, playing violin for all he was worth while the crowd supplied the requisite “woo-hoos” when necessary, as Scott was only singing single “woos”.
“I think we’re gonna play a song from the same vintage,” Scott announced, before launching into another song from the folksy days, “We Will Not Be Lovers”, though when he grabbed his electric guitar it was obvious this full-band version of the song would be more bombast than ballad. Still, it was a highlight and by now a few were screaming for even earlier songs like “This Is the Sea”. Scott obliged with another song from the same album, “The Pan Within”, dedicating it to “the lovers caught in the first flush of love.”
From there, it was a hodgepodge with Scott playing songs from solo work (“Bring ‘Em All In”, “What Do You Want Me to Do?”) and later-period Waterboys (“The Glastonbury Song”) before playing the hit which introduced most of the U.S. to the band, “The Whole of the Moon”. For this one song about a woman embracing life by reaching “too high, too far, too soon”, Scott sat down to delicately play his own piano, complimenting keyboardist Richard Naiff who manufactured lush horn-like sounds. “I almost formed a band in Austin, in the early ‘90s,” he said to a round of cheers, “it was to be an American version of the Waterboys.” He talked about rehearsing with a trio of Austin players (mentioning their first names) and then dedicated “Crown” to the local musicians, a tale about a fallible man trying to tread a righteous path so that he may earn his crown. The band closed with “My Love Is My Rock in the Weary Land”, a rocker reminiscent of the Waterboy’s own Magical Mystery Tour, but encored with one more early ode, “Don’t Bang the Drum” in an effort to satisfy the pagan in all of us.