Martin Roy on
Somewhere along the way, the Waterboys became the best wedding band you could ever wish to hire. Not that they’re available for celebrations of holy matrimony, but there surely would have been some takers among the crowd at the Belasco Theater on Tuesday night.
Mike Scott and his five-piece band were in their element, rambunctious and joyful. The ultimate shows of a tour are often cathartic and emotional affairs, and this night’s performance wasn’t any different. Breaking the show into two 10-song sets, the band was in fine form. As with any band of this age and legacy (15 full-length albums, counting Scott’s two solo affairs), there were hits played, hits ignored and new material debuted.
“A Girl Called Johnny” became a raucous NOLA-style jam, “We Will Not Be Lovers,” featuring the brilliance of longtime partner and violinist, Steve Wickham (also known for playing the violin parts on U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”). Of course, the warhorses “Fisherman’s Blues” and the encore, “Whole of the Moon,” were crowd-pleasers. The Waterboys released “Where the Action Is,” their latest album, back in May, and this tour is their first across the Atlantic since 2015. They played four tracks off the new record, but the closing number of their second set, “In My Time On Earth,” was clearly the tearjerker.
Clad in a classy Stetson, Scott still has that beautiful vulnerability about him, and rail-thin and aging, he still is given to romance and the beauty of spirituality. That and a 6-year-old daughter have kept him a young 60. Keyboardist Brother Paul looks as if he is a long lost refugee from Slade, The Sweet or The Status Quo. He brings glam, comic relief and stellar musicianship to the band. The rhythm section of Aongos Ralston and Ralph Salmins were locked in, with Salmins doing an admirable tribute to the late, great Ginger Baker.
It was 35 years ago that the Waterboys were commonly mentioned in the same breath as U2. They were the next big thing from the Emerald Isle, earnest, spiritual, even political, and they played what had been called the “Big Music,” an all-encompassing din that resembles the E Street Band in scope. But Waterboys leader Mike Scott had no interest in being a savior playing to stadium crowds. Instead, he found another creative vehicle, delving deeply into traditional Celtic sounds. What has followed is a wildly uneven, challenging and yet critically acclaimed career.
The Belasco show was the last of their 19-date U.S. tour. They are hoping to return to the States in 2020.