The Waterboys @ Warwick Arts Centre, 13th May 2018

Last time I saw The Waterboys at Warwick Arts Centre it was a standing gig, whereas tonight is seated and makes it all the more sedate which is a shame as the band come out with an arresting couple of hits; Medicine Bow and All The Things She Gave Me.

The drum roll introduction, courtesy of Ralph Salmins,  sees Mike Scott and crew burst into the set full pelt, with an additional kick to mark the chorus, unfortunately it takes the duration of the song to correct issues with the mix as both the violin and keyboards are very low whilst the snare is piercing. All The Things She Gave Me allows for the extremely talented Brother Paul to unleash an awesome Hammond solo which he does with pure joy, you would struggle to find another musician who plays with such delight and illuminates the venue with his sunny disposition and passion. The keyboard solo is followed by Steve Wickham’s violin prowess culminating in a jazz finale to the track.

On this tour, unusually, The Waterboys haven’t had a support act but rather chosen to play two hour long sets with an interval between them and both halves consist of classic tracks and a number of songs taken from their more recent albums Modern Blues and Out Of The Blue, the first being If The Answer Is Yeah with its Status Quoesque riff. During If The Answer Is Yeah, I find myself constantly distracted by the over-zealous backing singers who seem to be enjoying themselves but to the detriment of the impact of the band, especially as they obscure the bass player, Aongus Ralston. I, personally, would rather watch the playing style and skill of the musician over some haphazard dance routines.

For possibly the song of the night, Mike Scott moves to the electric piano for The Waterboys’ paean to the inimitable Patti Smith. With its aggressive piano chords and haunting saxophone part, which is played by Wickham on the violin, you can’t help but adore the song writing skills of Scott as he manages to create such imagery through his lyrics that sums up the attitude of “the godmother of punk”. It’s at this point you wish you could stand and start dancing but there is limited room and you can’t be too certain of not upsetting those behind you in the hall, yet off to the side you can see one person enjoying the space to its fullest and I am envious. This is the first of many times that Scott encourages the audience to participate with the yeahs towards the end of the song after some good-humoured musical interaction between him and Wickham including a number of glissandos.

An extended version of We Will Not Be Lovers sees dramatic interplay between Steve Wickham and the two backing singers that results in the violinist playing whilst lying on the floor and successfully managing to not get tangled in his lead. After every couple of songs, Mike Scott relays various narratives about the inspiration behind the track or just some amusing event that has occurred, demonstrating his skills at story-telling whether it be about shotguns being fired at the recording of Fisherman’s Blues or his inability to tune a guitar during his teenage years leading on to the track Still A Freak. The first half finishes with two love songs, Man, What A Woman and the extensive Morning Came Too Soon that eloquently explores two people finding each other in the throes of passion during the early stages in a liaison.

There have been a number of outfit changes during the interval and from a dapper yet sombre black suit, Scott returns in a cowboy jacket and purple flares noting that he is hot but in the words of Lou Reed, he is a rock and roller so doesn’t dress for the weather. Mike Scott is now playing an acoustic guitar for The Christ In You, a song not often played but it’s simplicity lyrically produces a song of true refinement that is appreciated by the fully observant audience.

Celebrating thirty years of the album Fisherman’s Blues sees When Ye Go Away make an appearance with its lilting folk violin line before there is a return to the electric guitar with The Nearest Thing To Hip. This is a lament to the loss of record shops and book stores and allows Mike to encourage the audience to join in singing shithole for its liberating experience which is fully embraced by all. After Santa Fe, Too Close To Heaven sees Scott step out of the spotlight part way through and allow some amazing interplay between Brother Paul and Steve Wickham. Brother Paul’s exuberance never overwhelms a song and he utilises a flute sound on the keyboard in contrast to Wickham’s fast-moving fingers and dynamics on the violin enhance this epic piece.    The crescendo ending provides the perfect timing for the rest of the band to exit leaving the musical compadres of Steve and Mike to explore Raggle Taggle Gypsy and Don’t Bang The Drum as a duo.

Scott returns to the keyboards for Don’t Bang The Drum playing nothing but chords in the right hand for the first verse whilst Wickham weaves his magical violin line over the top reinforcing the power of the song that it works so magnificently without needing anything more sonically complicated. For the final song of the set, the other band members return for the Long Strange Golden Road which was introduced by a sample and sees Wickham on lap steel.

The Waterboys have chosen a set list that incorporates a number of their lengthier tracks allowing the various musicians to explore talents in the live arena and ending on this where Brother Paul has the opportunity to lose himself supported by the solid rhythm section of Salmins and Ralston. Needless to say the band receive a standing ovation as they exit, with everyone knowing that they will return for that song. And as expected Scott sits at the piano and as those famous chords ring out the positivity in the room shoots through the roof as everyone is singing in the call and response during the chorus, “too high, too soon, you saw the whole of the moon”.

The stirring folk anthem, Fisherman’s Blues, completes the night’s performance and maintains the jovial atmosphere in the venue, reminding me why my love affair with The Waterboys has stood firm over the past thirty years. Mike Scott has a true talent for crafting optimistic songs musically whilst creating such powerful images about relationships with his words.

Reviewer: Toni Woodward


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