Waterboys – Paramount Theatre (Seattle, WA)
A dozen years after the release of the band’s masterpiece, Fisherman’s Blues, most people assume the Waterboys have devolved into Mike Scott and a bunch of stand-ins. But at the first West Coast Waterboys show in five years, Scott took the stage flanked by fiddler Steve Wickham and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, two Fisherman’s alums.
He then made it clear that their presence meant the set would feature past favorites — first with a spoken hint, and then, three songs in, with a stunning rendition of “Strange Boat”. Scott’s familiar lilt marked the chorus, but the instrumentation took over halfway through, as the frontman’s guitar and his old sidekick’s fiddle locked into an escalating battle that turned into an entrancing drone.
They were having fun, though it didn’t start so smoothly. Earlier in the night, the cavernous Paramount was more than half empty for the opening set by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The crowd filled out a bit for the headliners, but Scott didn’t seem entirely comfortable.
He announced that the Waterboys’ A Rock In A Weary Land, already released to critical praise in the U.K., would be coming out in the U.S. in August, then launched into a song from the disc, “The Charlatan’s Lament”. But his guitar crackled and stopped. The band tried again, and again Scott had to stop. “There’s something weird about this guitar,” he said.
Soon, however, the five-piece band found its stride, with Scott hitting all the notes in a searing version of another Fisherman’s Blues classic, “We Will Not Be Lovers”. Wickham, meanwhile, asserted his presence, stalking about the stage madly and sawing at his fiddle in a rousing finale punctuated by Scott’s cry of “Woo-hoo”.
With the energy rising, Scott then strapped on an acoustic. But rather than settle the mood, he began the hypermelodic strumming that signifies the title track of Fisherman’s Blues. The crisp performance calmed Scott, who then related a hilarious story about stumbling into a Seattle “junk shop” the previous day to buy two folios of Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, which he said scared him as a child. Scott said he then walked outside, found the largest garbage pail in Seattle, and threw the books away so they’d never scare another child.
Newer songs such as “Is She Conscious” and “Custer’s Blues”, a plodding tune featuring the bitter chorus, “Was he singing ‘This Land is Your Land’ when he died?”, didn’t connect. The nuances of such material got lost in the lofty theater. But it didn’t matter. Scott rekindled triumphant moments at will, proving that the Waterboys still exist in spirit as well as in name.