Monday, December 06, 2010

The Waterboys
Danforth Music Hall
November 5, 2007

Looking back, as I'm wont to do at this time of year, I see a handful of shows for which I never created a review.
Figure I'd fill the down time over the winter by revisiting those concerts.
Coming Soon: Tragically Hip, Arctic Monkeys, Joan Armatrading, Bruce Springsteen and more!

We'll start with The Waterboys.
For reasons I can't explain I never got around to doing a report on this show. It was at my favourite venue and it was excellent beyond expectations. I went only to hear Whole of the Moon and Fisherman's Blues and came away with an undying respect for Mike Scott's performance skills.

I like to study the bands I'm going to see in detail. Either they are new and the interweb has given me access to all they've done, or they've been around awhile and I'm familiar with their catalogue. This band falls into neither category for me. The two songs above are excellent, and pretty well the full scope of my exposure. That's something I should correct.

The W'Boys are touring Book of Lightning. Soul and spirit. Pointing a finger at the cowards who rule Burma and penning a love song to rival all.

Mike Scott must have warmed up his vocal chords in the dressing room because he launches the show at full force. Appropriate opening song, a Dylanesque-mini-Chimes of Freedom tolling for the fool and the clown, The Man With the Wind at His Heels is singing in the night. The song introduces a minor theme in tonight's set; the relationship between monarch and subject, government and citizen, oppressor and oppressed, and the forces of history on the lot of both parties.

The fight against the oppressors is not easy and Glastonbury Song is a testament, if it ain't a witness, to the source of the strength required to take on the task. Scott's inflection, pacing and voice are wonderful as he pounds out this power-pop song of faith found and spirit renewed. I'm not defender of the faith but I wouldn't go as far as the BBC and not play this song because the chorus makes you squirm. I'd have a little more respect for the art of the show.

Now armed with reason and weapons Scott slips into his best Bono-mode and takes up the fight with the military junta in Burma. After noting the band has been away from Toronto for too long, he introduces two topical songs and dedicates them to the "Burmese government, five terrified men," launching into the thinly-veiled threat that is It's Gonna Rain. Nothing shy about this indictment of the despots that predicts their inevitable fall in apocalyptic terms, reminiscent of Dylan's When the Ship Comes In in tone, but a backed by a full-on sonic attack.

Same message, different medium. Love Will Shoot You Down looks to the unwavering strength of the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi
and her brave followers and finds the weapon.

That was an intense quartet to open the show. Passionate deliveries on serious subjects without once denegrating into a boring diatribe. A calling to arms without the sanctimonious appeal to guilt. It's kind of like a Sting concert without Sting. And with rock n roll.

A change of pace in the show as we switch to a few introspective songs, starting with the emotion of love in Killing My Heart. There's a battle raging in this song. He belongs to another but he's not quite resigned himself to the loss of a former lover. Sneaky feelings he cannot speak.

The crowd responds with a burst of applause to the opening chords of Old England, from what I understand a rare outing. A bittersweet lament for the loss of, not imperial power because that would be wrong, but moral purpose and the subsequent loss of prestige. It happens to all empires and resonates in these days as we see the Western Empire, led blindly forward by it's new Captain, America, struggle to maintain it's death-grip and dignity, as if you could own both.
A slight modification to the lyrics; "and in Iraq he bangs his gong..." replacing the more timeless "and sticks his flag where it ill belongs...".

Umm, hang on here, isn't this about the music?

Well first a little soul, mixed with a dash of Scottish fantasy, as Mike Scott opens with the refrain from Mahalia Jackson's Since the Fire Started Burning in My Soul
and leads into his lengthy, otherwordly, Peace of Iona. This works as a soothing interlude in the show, time for the audience to relax, catch it's communal breath, float on a sea of orchestral music, complete with melodic chanting.

Intermission's over.

Let's have some fun.

Scott breaks the spell he's cast, snapping us back to the real world, the now, with the band introductions and after a brief intro jumps into a rollicking version of Raggle Taggle Gypsy. A reworking of the traditional tale Black Jack Davey, and perhaps a handful of other English ballads, only with gypsy's instead of pirates.

Then with no introduction we're right into a joyous version of Whole of the Moon. A perfect pop song, lightning in a bottle. I think even Mike was caught off-guard as he gives a little "Whoa! Whole of the Moon" at the end of the song, and it didn't sound sarcastic.

He pulls the band together for a little huddle and comes out talking spiritual songs, this one written by Johnny Mercer, as they kick into a fun-filled version of Accentuate the Positive. Fits nicely into tonights theme. "Thanks boys, that made my night," he says at songs end.

By this point we've already got great value for our money. The quality of the performance, the pace of the show, the connection between the artist and the audience, it's all tangible. But they're not done yet.

Sustain, written with Ida Nilsen, of Great Aunt Ida, tonight's opening act, is a little hard to figure out. Lyrically it's complex and it's allusion to a knight of the Round Table doesn't help me comprehend. However, aurally, it's a song of triump in tough times. The sentiment and emotion in the repetitive refrain is life affirming, even if the storyline is dense and inaccessible. I'd have someone tell me what it means but I fear it might ruin the song for me.

The next song was the highlight of the night and may be the third best live performance I've witnessed. (Dylan's Isis and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah being the other two.)It's an extraordinary love song and ranks close to Tangled Up In Blue as one of the best ever.

It opens with a bit of a whimper, a cliche that might have appeared on a motivational poster in a '70's headshop...if you love someone, let them go, if they return...yada,yada,yada.

She tried to hold me
She tried to hold me
She didn’t know
love is letting go

The chorus, while it's comparatively droll, is surrounded by some of the best writing pop music has seen. An economy of words that's astounding. The song covers a long period of time and changing perspectives and attitudes. Each line has a thousand unwritten words in its shadows. The images are cinematic; the emotions belong in the purview of the gods.

Lyrically it doesn't stray much from the album version, perhaps only the demon/devil switch but it is in another world when it comes to the performance. On the record it's a good song, better than average. Live, it's a volcano. The explosive parts are unrestrained in concert. His phrasing is razor sharp, not a word misses its mark. The inflection on 'perfection-strode-direction', 'unrealistic-ballistic','stairwell-farewell', are achingly poignant. The verses are precise, tight, aided by some outstanding couplets.

First verse; the courtship. No holding hands at the soda shoppe here. She's in charge, and on the prowl. In eight lines she tracks and controls her prey with a sense of purpose that might have been alluring, if not boner inducing.

She said ‘I’m looking for perfection’
as she strode in my direction
She cast her mantle round me,
said ‘I’m completed since you found me’
She executed her enchantment
secreted me in her encampment
With diversions and pretences
she dismantled my defences


Second verse; the conflagration. It's not like he wasn't warned. I love the juxtaposition of the 'powder blue pajamas' with the 'ballistic' girl.
And how excruciatingly telling are the descriptions of the combatants; 'flotsam in her drama', 'skin surrounding thunder', wow.

She told me I was unrealistic
and then she went ballistic
in her powder blue pajamas,
me some flotsam in her drama
She said “love’s what I believe in”
but inside she was seething
with a cyclone raging under
like she was skin surrounding thunder


Third verse; the escape. The tempo changes slightly now, from the titillating introduction to the explosive break up, we now get a more resigned view, with retrospection, though not reconcilation. A superbly visual octave, it's a moving picture. If there's a peak to this song, it's the plaintive cry in the closing couplet of this verse.

I made it to the stairwell
in the street I muttered farewell
with a driving wind agin me
and shame exploding in me
It took me six years to begin again
to feel secure in my own skin again
for she lingered like uranium
like a devil in my cranium


Fourth verse; the bitter-sweet residue. Looking back with rose-tinted glasses...or a new found respect for human short-comings. The tempo drops again, the voice, once bombastic, is now sympathetic. Scott's not finished working the song as his phrasing on 'deployed a little patience' and 'stipulations' leaves the lingering sense of a wish for a second chance that wasn't coming.

All this was long ago now
and if I knew then what I know now
I’d have deployed a little patience
I’d have laughed at all her stipulations
but I was young and I fumbled
a boy-fool whose castle crumbled
I couldn’t save her
though I forgave her


A tour de force. Takes your breath away like an Orkney Island winter.

Back to some Scottish dance-hall music, a jig, about a love-torn lad laying his claim and an undecided lady. When Will We Be Married? lets the band loose on another smile inducing tangent.

Scott's got a love for literature. Never more apparent than his attachment to WB Yeats. The Stolen Child is an adaptation from 1988. Just this past year he toured a whole set of Yeats poems set to music. A sad poem steeped in Irish mythology, about a world gone wrong, or a resigned ode to the passing of the light . I might never know.

Now while I've said a lot, I haven't said near enough about this band. They'll remain anonymous to me but they've matched Scott's intensity throughout the night. Some of these songs are orchestral, others flat out rock n roll. The arrangements vary from complex to a runaway freight-train. And they're tight. Very little downtime in this show. Even the stage patter was limited, consise and relevant.

Red Army Blues is a harrowing tale of a real-life tragedy that befell 2,000 Russia soldiers at the moment the Cold War was replacing the seemingly endless Wars for European Supremacy. Not at all out of place this evening as we think about the social contract we all have with our leaders, be they Kings, despots or elected officials.

The band lets loose again on an explosive version of Medicine Bow.Henry David Thoreau with an attitude.

Encore one opens with a chance to catch our breath as we get a cover of Springsteen's Independence Day. A treat, I saw Bruce in the '70's and the River Tour 4 times so it means something to me but it doesn't elevate the song beyond what Bruce did with it.

Back to the ethereal with The Pan Within. Sounds a little like an invitation to some tantric sex.

Second encore opens with the You In the Sky, like Glastonbury Song< , a song of devotion but there seems to be a communication problem.

Fisherman's Blues sends us off into the night, singing 'woo hoo', a more secular celebration of the wonder of life. It was great to hear the songs I knew, done with adherence to the original arrangement.

Sound samples under the hyperlinks.

Disc 1
T01 Intro
T02 The Man With The Wind At His Heels (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T03 Glastonbury Song (Dream Harder, 1993)
T04 It's Gonna Rain (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T05 Love Will Shoot You Down (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T06 Killing My Heart (Best of the Waterboys, 1991)
T07 Old England (Best of the Waterboys, 1991)
T08 Since the Fire Started Burning in My Soul/Peace of Iona(Mahalia Jackson cover/Universal Hall, 2003)

T09 Band Intro
T10 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
(Room To Roam, 1990)
T11 Whole of the Moon
(This Is The Sea, 1985)
T12 Accentuate the Positive
(Mercer/Arlen cover)
T13 Talk
T14 Sustain
(Book of Lightning, 2007)
T15 She Tried To Hold Me
(Book of Lightning, 2007)

Disc 2
T01 When Will We Be Married (Fisherman's Blues, 1988)
T02 The Stolen Child (WB Yeats, Fisherman's Blues, 1988)
T03 Red Army Blues
(Pagan Place, 1984)
T04 Medicine Bow
(This Is The Sea, 1985)
T05 encore break
T06 Independence Day
(Springsteen cover)
T07 The Pan Within (This Is The Sea, 1985)
T08 second encore break

T09 You In the Sky (Book of Lightning, 2007)
T10 Fisherman's Blues (Fisherman's Blues, 1988)

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