Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The Whole of the Moon: Showcasing Fine New Songs + Old Gems, The Waterboys Continue to Grow With the Flow -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Waterboys
Old Town School of Folk Music
September 29, 2019
5:00pm performance
(also played at 8:00)

1991-92 was a pivotal period for expanding my love of rock music. 

I’m old enough to have become a fan in the late-70s, and my high school and college years in the 1980s certainly bolstered the foundation.

As I moved to Los Angeles in early 1990, where I would stay until the end of 1992, I took with me an abiding love of many greats, including Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Elton John, Rush, John Mellencamp, Eric Clapton and U2, all of whom I would see live in that stretch.

But with the escalation of “alternative rock” and advent of grunge, I furthered my fandom of R.E.M., the Replacements and Elvis Costello—at one point in L.A. I bought all of his existing CDs—and was introduced to many enduring favorites. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, The Lemonheads, Soul Asylum, Screaming Trees and more.

A bit oddly to me now, I don’t think I ever heard of the Smashing Pumpkins while in L.A., but did come to know, love and see Chicago’s Material Issue. 

It probably took a couple more years for me to acclimate to Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails or appreciate Bob Mould, Depeche Mode and The Cure, but although my fandom has now largely ebbed, I expressly recall being turned onto the Goo Goo Dolls.

And likely sometime in 1991, I believe it was a co-worker at Kinko’s—where I worked part-time—who introduced me to The Waterboys.

My exploration started with The Best of the Waterboys 81–90, a compilation released in ’91 that I still find impeccable.

Led by Scottish singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike Scott, a literate, verbose and ambitious songwriter weaned on The Clash, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen among others, during the 1980s the Waterboys initially had a “big music” sound along the anthemic lines of British Isles contemporaries like U2, Big Country and the Alarm.

From this early era, I absolutely love “The Whole of the Moon” and several other terrific songs that extend beyond the “Best of” album I first knew.

And with ace fiddler Steve Wickham joining the band in 1985, the Waterboys delightfully delved into traditional Irish folk, best exemplified on 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues.

Lineups have changed over the years, Scott did some solo work and I can’t say I’ve ardently explored all of their albums.

But I first saw The Waterboys live in 2002, was delighted to catch them again in 2015 and happy I was able to get a ticket to the first of their two sold-out shows on Sunday at Chicago’s great Old Town School of Music.

With Wickham still accompanying Scott, the now 5-piece Waterboys began the 5pm show with “When Ye Go Away” from Fisherman’s Blues, followed by that album’s title track.

From there, the bulk of the setlist—what’s posted isn’t exact—came from three albums the Waterboys hav released since 2015: Modern Blues, Out of All This Blue and this year’s Where the Action Is

While this meant eschewing several early gems I would love to have heard—“Don’t Bang the Drum,” “All the Things She Gave Me,” “Church Not Made of Hands,” “This is the Sea,” among them—the show didn’t suffer much for it.

It was nice to note that Scott—whose voice sounded great—remains a fertile and imaginative songwriter and from his tribute to Mick Jones of the Clash, “London Mick” to the rollicking “Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)” to the plaintive “In My Time on Earth,” there was much great music to be heard.

And it was truly a joy to hear the band’s first single “A Girl Called Johnny” and, the show closer, the wondrous “The Whole of the Moon.”

Probably due to the need to clear the auditorium for the second show at 8:00pm, we didn’t hear the Waterboys’ fine cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” as the next crowd did, but it seems they didn’t get a cover of Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” which was a lot of fun.

Along with Wickham, onstage were drummer Ralph Salmins, bassist Aongus Ralston and wildman keyboardist Brother Paul Brown, whose fun backstory fueled the song “Nashville, Tennessee.”

The erudite Scott cited Brown’s love of KISS and told of his own nearly missing—on separate occasions—meeting three of the Beatles. I also enjoyed his story leading into the song “Santa Fe.”

So in terms of music, old and new, plus engaging audience interaction and a good bit of onstage fun,
it was a thoroughly entertaining concert in a great setting, running nearly 2 hours.

 As noted above, I didn’t even get into the Waterboys until after they had produced a lot of their best music, and I’ve still been a fan for nearly 30 years.

They haven’t constantly remained top of mind, but I’m grateful that they continue to flow through my existence.

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