Monday, October 14, 2019

The Waterboys bring magic and firepower to the Observatory

The Waterboys performing early in their second
set at The Observatory on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019.
Having been a music writer for most of my life it's hard to believe I had never caught The Waterboys in concert until their show last night (Oct. 13, 2019), when the Mike Scott-led British-Irish band performed at The Observatory in Santa Ana.

I was first introduced to the band with the release of their third album This Is The Sea in late 1985 and I quickly wore out my cassette copy of the album, playing it over and over and over again. I have since purchased several copies of that album on audio CD (including the 2004 expanded reissue edition) along with many more of the troupe's outstanding efforts (Fisherman's Blues, Dream Harder, Universal Hall, An Appointment With Mr. YeatsModern Blues and this year's Where The Action Is are among my other favorites).  

Fast forward 34 years later and it is clear this writer's early connection with Scott's literate and poignant songwriting remains intact. The band's fast-moving two-hour set featured the rich and diverse material that has been a trademark of Scott's acclaimed career. Fans of traditional Celtic, British blues, alt rock and folk all were rewarded with favorites across the wonderful night.

There was no opening act on the bill and fans who arrived on time were rewarded with a concert that was firing on all cylinders from the first note. Opening with the title track on Where The Action Is, Scott and his four-man band would quickly prove they are a tight-knit outfit whose virtuoso skills made navigating the diverse range of material look easy. Scott closed out the opening salvo with some intense fretwork on his electric guitar.

Mike Scott leading The Waterboys in Santa Ana.
"Good evening Santa Ana," Scott said after that powerful opening. 

Now, armed with a 12-string acoustic guitar, Scott led the group through a beautiful and lilting "When Ye Go Away," bolstered by the gorgeous fiddle work of noted Irish musician Steve Wickham. That lovely track segued into several other gems from Fisherman's Blues, including the instrumental "Dunford's Fancy" and a stirring version of the beloved "Fisherman's Blues." This live arrangement of the title track from the band's 1988 album featured a dramatic break featuring Scott's work on the guitar.

Other highlights of the first set included "London Mick" ("We're going to play a song for my favorite member of The Clash" Scott said in his introduction of the new song), the driving "A Girl Called Johnny" featuring Scott's signature work on the keyboards and a ferocious take on "Medicine Bow."

Mike Scott, on right, at The Observatory.
After a short intermission, the quintet returned to the stage and offered up a set as powerful as the first one. "Man, What a Woman" was one several songs played that probed the mysterious and palpable mystery and passion that exists between man and woman. Indeed, not long later a gritty version of the powerful "We Will Not Be Lovers" complete with an explosive finale reinforced Scott's quest to make sense of it all. 

Scott reworked "November Tale"  into an acoustic-styled folk song, playing acoustic guitar and singing the poetic lines with keyboardist Brother Paul Brown added sublime vocal harmonies. 

As powerful as this night was, the last three songs upped the supremacy of the musical event even more. The impassioned "Morning Came Too Soon" led off this stretch, with the rendering of romantic lust presented via a propulsive and hypnotic groove that gave way to a sonic eruption featuring Scott replicating the might of Neil Young's guitar thunder with Crazy Horse via an extended solo.

The genre-defying confessional "In My Time On Earth"  one of the standouts on Where The Action Is closed out the regular set. Scott's rich baritone delivering each line of the incredible song with truth and persuasion.

The five members returned to deliver "The Whole of the Moon" from This Is The Sea for a spirited encore capping a memorable night of original and masterful music making.

Review and photos: Robert Kinsler

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