Mercury Rev: 11 December 2008 – Chicago, Metro
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley
Fans waiting for Mercury Rev to take to the road again won’t be disappointed as this tour -- to promote their recently released seventh studio album, Snowflake Midnight -- is more commanding and memorable than past performances.
This time around, the five piece group has increased the use of visuals. Projected behind them, at the back of the stage, came everything from favorite record covers to cherished quotes. The lighting also highlighted the dramatic quality of their songs, both in terms of colors and transient bursts of light. When lead singer Jonathan Donahue wasn’t at his microphone, he stood by the drum kit with his arms spread as if cherishing an ethereal experience as the light and color enveloped him in a bright, psychedelic wonderland.
The second thing that has increased is the immensity of the sound. Creating a sense of largeness and space, the perfectly balanced elements of instrumentation and vocals meshed to construct music that alternated between dreamy and grandiose. On record, Mercury Rev’s songs are characterized by a unique sense of sound courtesy of Dave Fridmann’s production. The translation of this studio trickery to the stage has not always been effective, but with Donahue singing his heart out theatrically and adopting iconic poses, it was impossible not to feel the band’s deep sense of accomplishment.
Donahue and guitarist Grasshopper still possess a great live chemistry, and their shared history was evident as the band played a mix of recent material and songs from a more distant past. Long time fans of the band will be happy to hear that they are not only playing newer songs, such as “Snowflake in a Hot World” and “October Sunshine”, but also “Holes”, “Opus 40”, and “The Funny Bird” from 1998’s masterpiece, Deserter’s Songs. 2001’s fantastic album All is Dream also received a fair amount of attention with “Tides of the Moon” and “Spiders and Flies” being definite highlights of the set. By the end of the night, as lights and projections interlocked with the music, it was impossible not to marvel at the wonder of it all.