Tonight The Waterboys touring train reached Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. With a newly released twelfth album, Out Of The Blue, would the set list be dominated by an album that has been a massive hit for them? Out Of The Blue, has easy to listen to tunes lots of love and changing styles or would we hear some old favourites. Last year when touring the new album dominated the setlists but with the album now five months old has the setlist changed?
Tonight the concert starts as they dig into their back catalogue as Medicine Bow is primed and gets us ready to swim the musical sea that is the Waterboys, full of eddies and cross-currents as love, politics and life are explored. Frontman Mike Scott was joined on stage old stalwarts, Steve Wickham on fiddle and drumming from lead drummer Professor Ralph Salmins and Brother Paul on keys with new bassist Aongus Ralston (His name rhymes with Genghis!) and backing vocals from Jess Kav and Zennie Summers. We then went further back revisiting A Pagan Place with All The Things She Gave Me the alternative sound that mixes roots music with rock swelled around the auditorium, no long guitar break we were instead treated to a superb energizing organ playing display from Brother Paul bringing the Memphis vibe to town tonight.
As usual, Mike moves from guitar to piano as the songs delivered changed in tone and texture. The consistency is the delivery of his distinctive vocals that emanate from under the brim of his hat means that the lyrics are augmented and given context as Mike’s voice gives them musical life. To A Girl called Johnny with the closing refrain of Ashes and Sand with tambourines in the hands of backing vocals the audience is now drawn into the music and they are enjoying every moment.
Tonight as we heard the words delivered with meaning, and in We Will Not Be Lovers the backing vocalists and fiddler wore masks hiding their identity with lots of theatrical interplay between the three of them. With Steve being dragged down whilst playing the fiddle on his back and then defeated falls silent. This is a band that has changed over the years still loving the diverse genre-bending music that they love to play. Full of power and intensity no wonder Waterboys have been described as ‘Big Music’. Yet, they also deliver a stripped back simpler sound on Don’t Bang The Drum, as Mike sat behind the keys and Steve played the fiddle as the rest of the band had a break. Another reminder of albums from the past this time This Is The Sea.
Into the mix, we had new songs, from Out Of The Blue, with no hard sell or razzmatazz the numbers were simply slotted in as a trio of delights. Nashville, Tennessee; Man, What A Woman; and Morning Come Soon. The songs slipped into the traditional Waterboys selection tonight. As Mike said Nashville for Brother Paul is summed up as he says his soul is in Memphis and his arse in Nashville. The fiddle was laid down for Man, What A woman another love song, another narrative, teller of tales songs that had that depth of interest to a Waterboys concert.
Other highlights, Still A Freak, dedicated to the many homeless people Mike had observed in his stroll around Cardiff. As he said with so many displaced people society isn’t working properly. The old favourite from Fishermans Blues, When You Go Away, from Spiddal days that Mike shared that he still dreams of. Followed by the chance for audience singalong with Nearest Thing To Hip as we re-visit Modern Blues. The inner child in us all loved the opportunity to sing shithole in public! This is for all the clubs and venues that are no more as they have been closed down and re-developed. As Mike reminisced when he played in Cardiff to an audience of six men in the New Ocean Club, back in 1984 now long closed. We took a musical road to Santa Fe and treated to hat change and a fiddle exchanged for a lap steel as we travelled The Long Strange Golden Road.
Too soon, it was time for an encore, dancers were dancing the rest underneath the magical spell of The Whole Of The Moon. Applause was hot, the cheers loud the audience wanted more, the stage remained silent. So we went off into the night. Having played for two hours with a short interval the new album tracks slotted in a setlist full of treasured musical favourites that got people out of their seats dancing with pure joy as the music filled every corner of the multi-layered concert hall.