The Waterboys - Manchester Bridgewater Hall

When was the last time you saw a band 19 years after you last (and first) saw them play live ? Me and Mike Scott have some catching up to do. When we last shared a room, The Waterboys were as popular as they were ever going to be. Having kicked their audience in the collective aesthetic goolies with ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, an artistic continent travelled, Scott’s ‘Big Music’ forsaken in favour of the folk that had fired his soul while taking time out in Ireland, they kept and then built their audience. As Britpop and all manner of shallow diversions swept our cultural map, their fortunes faded. In 2007, after the best part of two decades playing in all manner of solo and band configurations, The Waterboys are once again a going, and ongoing, concern. Scott, with long-time fiddler Steve Wickham, and regular keyboard player Richard Naiff in his five piece band, now tours with Dylan-like regularity and tonight is a few dates into 30-odd UK shows.

I have far too much respect for Mike Scott to be anything approaching flippant or dismissive, but with the passing years have come unavoidable changes, not all of them good. So, tonight’s gig, at the salubrious Bridgewater Hall (“Here we are, back in this … lounge …” muses Scott) is a rocking, but stately, affair; one part folk (‘When Will We be Married’, ‘The Stolen Child’), one part mid 80s early years rock (‘The Pan Within’, ‘Red Army Blues’) and one part more recent stuff. I hate to say it, but it’s the latter that doesn’t stand up. ‘Strange Arrangement’ and ‘Sustain’ are stagey and arch; ‘Love Will Shoot You Down’ reminds me of Bon Jovi. Similarly, I can do without the chugging electric guitar that chokes the required slink of ‘The Pan Within’ and in 2007 the bombast of ‘old classic’ ‘Red Army Blues’ now outweighs its previous hallowed status. If the latter is back in the set, when calls for it once sent its writer into a rage, I demand a blast of ‘Savage Earth Heart’. Or ‘December’. Please. Having said that, the back catalogue is edited tastefully, with ‘This is the Sea’ and ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ getting most attention.

Make no mistake, Mike Scott is still as engaging a performer as he ever was. No-one can keep their mercurial early years fire burning forever, so credit for even trying. If the ardour of his fans is anything to go by, my complaints are not so widely felt. And to be perfectly fair, tonight’s (seated, but standing after half an hour once ‘The Whole of the Moon’ comes stomping through) audience loves it. Towards the end momentum really does hit the red zone with a volley of ‘Be My Enemy’ and ‘Medicine Bow’. But again, it’s all washed away a little for this old fan when the closing ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ is played for jig-gery pokery and laughs when back in 1988 it was delivered with fire and fervour. Maybe I just loved the man too much when he was busy rallying against the world. As a fan, I’ll keep a watchful eye. But I suspect the thrill is gone.

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