Music Review: The Waterboys – Mooning Over Mike, Or The Keyboards To The Kingdom

November 29, 2022

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

The Waterboys / Marks Park, Emmarentia, Johannesburg

 

Originally scheduled for April 2020 and then postponed twice because of Covid, this first South African tour – how can that be possible? – for The Waterboys took a while to get to Johannesburg, but in singer-songwriter Mike Scott’s timeline, that delay is hardly a blip. He’s been at the helm of one or other version of the Waterboys since 1983 as the only constant member, and the band’s most enduring hit, The Whole Of The Moon was released in 1985. And back then – and in all the intervening years – every version of The Waterboys (apparently over 70 musicians have played gigs as official band members over that time) has enjoyed a reputation as a great live act.

How good this incarnation is is underlined by the fact that every song in the setlist is a blast to listen to and watch, regardless of your familiarity with the material or whether you only arrived hoping to hear a handful of hits. There are plenty of those (inasmuch as Scott’s intelligent, literary lyrical references qualify as hits in the mainstream sense), including A Girl Called Johnny, The Pan Within, This Is The Sea, Glastonbury Song and Strange Boat. There are also a William Butler Yeats cover (obviously) in The Lake Isle Of Innisfree and a song called Nashville, Tennessee, dedicated to pianist, keyboard player and organist “Brother” Paul Brown.

Scott, centre stage and as distinctive for his voice as his weathered cowboy hat, commands attention with his authoritative presence and guitar playing (a fabulously murky sound out of a couple of Gibson The Paul guitars; one a beautiful green colour). But when Brown gets going, soloing on everything from a Hammond organ to a keytar, he owns the stage, and the entire venue in which everything is taking place, and a good portion of the surrounding suburbs. He displays phenomenal virtuosity on his various keyboards, able to fit in more notes in a song than most pianists fit in during a whole concert, but what raises the energy level of both his bandmates and every member of the audience is the insane dynamism of his playing when the arrangements call for it. Incited by Scott in one song to do a second and then a third solo, each building on the last in intensity terms, Brown becomes a dervish behind his instruments, shedding his jacket and cap to free up his arms and to allow for some hardcore headbanging. In folk rock. Magic.

Relatively speaking the rhythm section keep thing simple, but it’s a balance that works brilliantly, with regular old-school solos and instrumental sections never feeling indulgent, but rather just building an sustaining a festive, exultant atmosphere that leaves you feeling both impressed and cheerful.

The Whole Of The Moon is given a restrained, stylish reworking with Scott on keys and the abidingly great Fisherman’s Blues, left almost to the end, is everything long-time fans would’ve wanted to experience in person after waiting so long.

A band to try and see again. And again.

 

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