The Waterboys – review

Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

"Someone had to do it!" yells Mike Scott, explaining the Waterboys' An Appointment With Mr Yeats, an epic show setting the poetry of the great Irish writer to music. The singer explains how Yeats's core subjects – love, politics and the mystic – left "a great unused set of fucking rock'n'roll lyrics". Moments later, he is hollering The Song of Wandering Aengus over a big piano riff somewhere between the Waterboys circa their 1985 smash The Whole of the Moon and Mott the Hoople.

It takes a brave artist to debut nearly two hours of unreleased music, but Scott's confidence in these songs is not misplaced. No doubt aware of the capacity for a fall, he has matched the magical words with his very best music. The songs don't all work – Down By the Sally Gardens, for example, needs a gentler touch. Mad as the Mist and Snow, however, reaches the messianic intensity of the Waterboys' This Is the Sea.

Looking every inch the literary rock star in stripes and velvet, Scott has clearly thought through every detail of what is obviously a personal project. There are musicians in demonic masks; at one point, Scott's tousled barnet is framed by so many spotlights that it glows. Words written 100 years ago seem newly relevant. The political section – which includes images from 2009 of bloodied Iranian protesters alongside the words "They will be remembered" – will be hard to forget.

Poetry-pop fusions are fast becoming fashionable, but this feels like a triumph. After a standing ovation, Scott unveils his first Yeats adaptation, The Stolen Child, from the Fisherman's Blues album of 1988. During The Whole of the Moon, the poet himself appears on the video screen, and appears to be smiling.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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