If the legend that is Andy Nathan can report on an AOR convention from Sweden, surely, I can cover The Waterboys from Spain…
This outdoor arena on the outskirts of Valencia was a steeply banked affair with a rigid cantilevered roof open at the back and sides. On a sweltering evening where the temperature nudged 37 degrees, the circulation of air was welcome.
The uncluttered aspect also enabled us to cheer the band when their van pulled up next to the stage in full view of the crowd. Each member climbed from the Transit, gig-ready, and waved before disappearing into the dressing room.
15 minutes later, they hit the stage for real. In many ways, the opener, ‘Where the Action Is’ epitomises the anthemic side of The Waterboys sound. It is the title track of their latest album but wouldn’t be out of place on any of the ‘big music’ releases from the mid-80’s. Crashing, energetic guitar lines, swooping organ, violin decorating the melody everywhere and Mike Scott giving potent life to his evocative lyrics.
Tonight’s show leant heavily on that canon of majestic, soaring rock ‘n’ roll. But this band have resisted genre-stereotyping for over 30 years. When Mike Scott took them down a Celtic/folk avenue back in 1988, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Yet here those acoustic, country and Irish influences showed how beautifully they have matured to form a vital part of an eclectic, vibrant and thrilling set.
As if to emphasise the development of the material, ‘All the Things She Gave Me’ was delivered with much more gravel and rawness than on 1984’s ‘A Pagan Place’ and came with a couple of prog interludes from ‘Brother’ Paul Brown on keyboards. Attired in an eye-catching white suit with grey locks flowing with the momentum of his playing, this could have been Rick Wakeman on a bad hair day.
‘A Girl Called Johnny’, played as an encore on the recent UK dates, was chucked in early here and saw Scott sat at an electric keyboard stage right, rapping out the staccato introduction that hit a sweet spot with the Spanish crowd.
Scott was in playful mood. At the end of the song he sat down again and led the band through an impromptu swinging instrumental coda. At the conclusion he stood up, sat down yet again and decided to repeat the trick. We lapped it up. I particularly enjoyed watching Ralph Salmins on drums keeping his eagle-eyes on Scott, waiting for the cue to wind up the section. Moments like this kept the show fresh and spontaneous. The crowd picked up on it and responded noisily.
The new album was plundered for two further tracks: ‘Ladbroke Grove Symphony’ saw Scott painting pictures of his early days in west London; and later the haunting, tender and breath-taking ‘In My Time on Earth’ provided a reflective pause.
Similarly, the traditional Irish folk of ‘When Ye Go Away/Dunford’s Fancy’ brought easy, intimate and mellow moments, triggering sentimental hand-holding amongst some of the audience around me. Emotional lot.
The band changed up immediately and swept into the swaggering ‘Nashville, Tennessee’ during which Brown and Scott embarked on a classic keyboard/guitar battle. Scott provoked the former to greater heights: “Have you got a Valencia-quality solo in you, Brother Paul?” The intensity continued with a raucous ‘Medicine Bow’.
Steve Wickham, the only other member of the band to survive from the last Millennium, had been providing delightful fiddle fills all night, accompanied by light-footed twirls in his purple suit. On ‘The Pan Within’, he took a starring role.
Played with just violin, acoustic guitar and voice, the song was a triumph. It prompted the loudest reception of the night from the Spaniards, who belted out every word with spine-tingling gusto. The crowd were often out of sync with Scott who, as is his wont, sang with deliberate non-album phrasing.
‘Let it Happen’ flashed by, featuring more outstanding organ from Paul Brown. And then the main set closed with a rollercoaster, crowd participative ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, ripping along on a compelling rhythm whipped up by Salmins and David Hood on bass.
A chorus of “Olé, olé-olé-olé” brought the band back for a riotous version of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, with Scott declaring, “Well they won’t play it anymore, so someone’s got to!”
The gig could only end one way, and sure enough, the band’s best-known song ‘The Whole of the Moon’ came out to play. Ironically, this was the weakest song of the entire night. The arrangement Scott chose for this oft-played hit was electric piano-led and underwhelming with off-kilter vocal phrasing.
Nevertheless, the song is so strong, and the crowd so enthusiastic that this tinkering had no material impact. When Scott crooned ‘Yes, you climbed on the ladder/With the wind in your sails/You came like a comet/Blazing your trail’, the hairs on the back of my neck stood all the way up, just like they had in 1993.
The band locked arms at the front of the stage and bathed in the applause before departing with more incessant chants of “Olé” ringing in their ears. A brilliant, spiritual, celebratory night.
Review by Dave Atkinson
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