Throughout his 20-year career, Mike Scott has embraced contradictions — not so much to resolve them, but as a test of faith. In Scott’s world, suffering and war are not concepts to wrestle with, but rather accept; they exist to give contentment and peace their meaning. At the El Rey Wednesday night, after first telling the crowd how much it meant to him to be playing the States in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he led the latest addition of the Waterboys in a rousing yet thoughtful two-hour set.
Songs such as “Let It Happen” and “The Wind in the Wires” gave voice to Mike Scott’s Zen poetics, finding their faith in the moment. The current version of the Waterboys (possibly the band’s strongest lineup) is up to the task. Built around Stephen Wickham’s amplified mandolin and fiddle, they give Scott’s grandly proportioned Dylan/Lennon/Bowie-like compositions a heft and swagger.
During a throbbing “Medicine Bow,” the violin takes the high choppy part you’d expect to hear from a lead guitar, and “Crown” mixes its cheerfully grinding riff with an even cheesier, Keith Emerson-styled synthesizer solo from Richard Naiff.
At their best, the Waterboys (for all intents now a Scott solo project) were at their best when the band melded Celtic traditions with a punky energy. Band’s recent “A Rock in the Weary Land” (Razor & Tie) is a return to form, with Scott finding a way to unite his Celtic tendencies with a broader sonic palette.
Their fiery perf brought out Scott’s rarely seen playful side. Grinning broadly, Scott used the neck of his guitar for a theremin solo and took an anarchic piano solo during “Fisherman’s Blues.” And the encore, a passionate “This Is the Sea,” ended with Scott playing a bit of “The Star Spangled Banner,” sending the crowd home blissfully wrung out.
Opening the show was Arista act Tom McRae who was reviewed earlier (Daily Variety, July 15).