Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Waterboys are Refreshingly Good as 'Modern Blues' and 'Fisherman's Blues' Intersect at the House of Blues -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Waterboys
w/ opening act The Blue Bonnets
House of Blues, Chicago
May 6, 2015

Believe me, I am self-conscious about how highly I rate numerous shows, especially those close together.

To repeatedly bestow @@@@@ or @@@@1/2 on the Seth Saith rating scale--essentially meaning "I loved it!"--can theoretically risk stretching credulity and straining credibility. 

Not everything can really be fantastic, can it?

Although in terms of rock concerts I pretty much only see artists I knowingly like, and predominately ones I have seen previously, over the past week I have given @@@@@ and @@@@1/2, respectively, to the first concerts I've caught by Manic Street Preachers and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

I also gave @@@@1/2 to a fun yet excessively sloppy show by The Replacements, abetted by a great opening set from the Smoking Popes.

While the entirety, and consequence, of such concerns undoubtedly exists only within my brain, I was conscious of it in watching The Waterboys at the House of Blues on Wednesday.

Although I truly enjoyed the full 2 hours Mike Scott & Co. spent onstage, plus a delightful opening set by The Blue Bonnets--an Austin-based female quartet including Kathy Valentine of the Go Go's, who impressed enough to prompt me to buy a signed CD--there were times during the show when I wondered if @@@@ might be merited, whether in comparison to the other recent shows or due to half the songs coming from the Waterboys' new album, Modern Blues.

But despite just two days of Spotifamiliarizing myself with the new material, much of it sounded stellar, even if it rocks more straightforwardly than the stylistically-diverse Waterboys of old and doesn't take much advantage of electric fiddler extraordinaire, Steve Wickham.

Scott still has one of the coolest voices in rock and I admire him spotlighting the new album as much as he did--even if a tad overabundantly--with songs like the opening "Destinies Entwined," "November Tale," "Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)," "The Girl Who Slept For Scotland" and a long, fervent take on "Long Strange Golden Road" to close the main set. All were welcome components of a well-paced show that never dragged.

With my love of the band dating to 1991, when I discovered The Best of the Waterboys and then the bulk of their preceding material, it was a thrill to hear old gems like "A Girl Called Johnny," the wondrous "The Whole of the Moon"--among my favorite songs ever, by anyone--and a show-closing romp through "Fisherman's Blues."

As the latter song comes from 1988's Irish folk-influenced album of the same name--the Waterboys' first to feature Wickham--it wasn't surprising to hear it make delectable use of the fiddler's talents, as did "We Will Not Be Lovers," a song I was gladly reintroduced to from the same album.

Always the core Waterboy, the Scotland-born Scott relocated the band throughout the British Isles during their initial 1980s iteration, and in this one it was interesting to note a keyboardist from Memphis (Paul Brown, quite the frenzied presence), guitarist from Austin (an impressive Zach Ernst) and drummer from London (Ralph Salmins), along with the Irish Wickham.

Somewhat surprisingly, the mature-looking bass player among the generally veteran crew was none other than David Hood, who played on some of the greatest songs in history as part of the Swampers studio band of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. (He is featured in the excellent Muscle Shoals documentary and is the father of Patterson Hood of Drive-by Truckers.)

The global swath of first-rate musicians impressively executed the Waterboys diverse instrumentation, most ebulliently with Wickham at the fore. As such, I would have loved for Scott to have reached back just a bit deeper, perhaps with "All the Things She Gave Me" or "Church Not Made of Hands."

Left out after appearing in some recent setlists (see Chicago's on was a cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country," which I largely missed due to the coincidence of my pal Paolo hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash cover it just blocks away at the Chicago Theatre, and because Dylan was a noted admirer of "The Whole of the Moon" (and hero of Scott's).

Still, I'm guessing this may well be the only concert I'll ever see to include covers of both W.B. Yeats--via the Waterboys' musicalization of his "Song of Wandering Aengus"--and Prince, whose "Purple Rain" was played as a delicious encore, highlighted by Wickham replicating on violin Prince's guitar solo. (The more low-key rendition in this BBC Radio 2 video is simply sublime.)

The demonstrably literate-in-his-lyrics Scott was content to mostly let the music do the talking, but it was fun to hear him reminisce about first playing Chicago, at the Aragon in 1984, then subsequently at Park West and The Vic (where I saw the Waterboys in 2001).

Before launching into "Purple Rain," he offered the guise of this being the world's best Waterboys tribute band, comprised of members from America's south--as three of them actually are--and teased the Prince classic by glibly introducing as a Lynyrd Skynyrd hit.

Other than a couple more oldies I might have swapped in, or simply added--while noting that Scott and Wickham's gentle duet on "Don't Bang the Drum," originally quite a rocker, was another great highlight--there was nothing about the show I didn't enjoy. I was even granted a stool to sit on at the typically SRO HOB, so I was comfortable as well.

So while I can't quite deem this a @@@@@ show, I make no apologies for coming pretty close.

I enjoyed the show from beginning to end--and even before, having been bewitched by The Blue Bonnets, who seemed to be having a blast in belting out songs like "60 Punishing Minutes," "Psychometer," "Have a Nice Day" and the classic "Treat Her Right"--and would happily see the Waterboys the next time they come through town.

And if I appear to feel that way about the vast majority of concerts I see, well, that's really only a good thing.

I didn't capture any full songs on video, just some snippets, mainly to abet my own memories. I've uploaded a few to YouTube, but haven't titled them in a searchable manner. You can find them by clicking 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

And you can also access a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite Waterboys' songs by clicking here.

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