The Waterboys have a pretty impressive back catalogue of tunes, so what would they choose to delight us with? They have tried so many varied musical styles since their inception and believe me tonight they didn’t disappoint a pretty much full house at the London Palladium. We are in the presence of two genius’s in the shape of Mike Scott and Steve Wickham, old sparing Celtic folkies playing good old time R’n’R.
As always, Mike wears a hat during performances, very dapper indeed. They are always nicely tilted over this glasses and I’m guessing it really helps to keep the spotlights our of his eyes. Steve also wears a selection of hats, but always with sunglasses! For the first set Mike has a nice blue suit and for the second set he goes all cowboy Americana, a nod to his experiences and influences of his time in the states.
Mike gives an exemplary performance, his voice and passion as fierce as ever, on guitar and keyboards. ‘Don’t bang the Drum’ with just Steve on fiddle and Mike on piano was earth shatteringly haunting and boy what a noise the two of them made – worth the entrance fee alone!
This tour sees them out as a seven-piece (two singers) sort of promoting last year’s ‘Out Of All This Blue’ triple LP (of which I have a signed copy – big smile!). Now my wife and I were chuckling at the resemblance of some members of the band to other relatively famous people e.g. on bass = Josh Homme; on keyboards ‘Brother’ Paul Brown = 1960s bastard offspring of Tiny Tim/John Gorman; on drums Ralph Salmins = Roy Kinnear. Mike and Steve are themselves on course!
The evening is split into two halves (8:00 – 9:00 and 9:25 – 10:30) with a 25-minute intermission which gives the band time to change clothes and have a well-earned rest after a rollickingly powerful heavy hitting first set (well none of us are getting any younger are we?). They started loud and pretty much continued in that rock-oriented vein throughout with Steve and the flamboyant American keyboardist ‘Brother’ Brown getting chances to show off their skills with extended jams. Mike makes sure not to hog the limelight whilst the sublime Steve Wickham fiddles (tee-hee couldn’t resist that one) and Paul tinkles on the ivory’s as if his life depended on it.
We start at the beginning with the classic ‘Medicine Bow’ and rocking ‘All the Things She Gave Me’ before Mike does a little 30 second ditty on guitar “We’re at the London Palladium coz we couldn’t sell enough tickets for Wembley Stadium”. “They are all love songs” Mike announces as they launch into ‘We will not be lovers’ a rhythmic almost Shaman like trance of a song – turn up the volume and let it flow through you. Only 4 songs in, can it possibly get any better than that? The next bunch of songs are more recent, from the last two LPs and non-the less any less enthralling. Now from the banter it would appear that Mike and ‘Brother’ Paul Brown get on rather well, so much so that Mike wrote the next song about him – yes folks ‘Nashville, Tennessee’ and literally in Paul’s case “My soul is in Memphis, But my ass is in Nashville, Tennessee”! Keyboard players need to do something to steal the limelight, and Paul does it to aplomb – hair, attire, enthusiasm, gestures and southern drawl accent (yes, he needed sub-titles) – a typical over the top American.
The second set is far more sedate by comparison and goes back to his Celtic, folky, mystic roots. Plenty of tunes that are more 12 string acoustic and fiddle based such as on ‘The Christ In You’, ‘When Ye Go Away’. Alas ‘Too Close to Heaven’ is slightly spoiled by the constant squeaking sound of Mike moving his fingers along the strings in-between chord changes – a problem all guitarists will have come across when the same chord shape moves along the frets quickly. Mike and Steve have the stage to themselves for songs 16 & 17 (see the set list below along with associated statistics) and then the band re-appears to finish with an extended full on version of ‘Long Strange Golden Road’. Class act, tight band, totally immersive and enjoyable gig A+!
Set 1 (Click on links to view the YouTube videos in 4k)
- Medicine Bow – (This is the Sea, 1985)
- All the Things She Gave Me – (A Pagan Place, 1984)
- If the Answer Is Yeah – (Out of All This Blue, 2017)
- A Girl Called Johnny – (The Waterboys, 1983)
- We Will Not Be Lovers – (Fisherman’s Blues, 1988)
- Nashville, Tennessee – (Out of All This Blue, 2017)
- Still a Freak – (Modern Blues, 2015)
- Man, What a Woman – (Out of All This Blue, 2017)
- Morning Came Too Soon – (Out of All This Blue, 2017)
- The Christ in You – (Universal Hall, 2003)
- When Ye Go Away – (Fisherman’s Blues, 1988)
- Dunford’s Fancy – (Fisherman’s Blues, 1988)
- Nearest Thing to Hip – (Modern Blues, 2015)
- Santa Fe – (Out of All This Blue, 2017)
- Too Close to Heaven – (Too Close to Heaven, 2001)
- The Raggle Taggle Gypsy – (Room to Roam, 1990)
- Don’t Bang the Drum – (This is the Sea, 1985)
- Long Strange Golden Road – (Modern Blues, 2015)
- The Whole of the Moon – (This is the Sea, 1985)
They finished with only one encore ‘The Whole of The Moon’ which was somewhat lacklustre to my mind (although the audience were all on their feet, dancing and singing along and having a jolly good time) and totally outshone by much that came before it. With so many other classic songs not even aired perhaps Mike might have the balls to consider omitting this track in future?
I’m kind of glad they never really made it into the big league, given Mike’s talent they really should have been much bigger, but on the flip side we get to see them close up and personal in decent sized venues without the need of field glasses!
I love The Waterboys, I have the majority of their output, and have now seen them 7 times since 1989. Keep going Mike, you are rare & precious but certainly not gone!
Marko [28 April 2018]