Leopardstown Racecourse put on a series of concerts over the summer under the moniker Bulmer's Live. This brought a motley crew of musical guests – Hothouse Flowers, Hudson Taylor, Paul Young, Smokie and ultimately the mighty Waterboys.
It was my first time at a racecourse. The concert ticket included access to the grounds and the actual races. I sat on the stands for a while, watching a couple of races thinking that this must be what the Queen does for entertainment. The grounds are big and include a restaurant, many bars and nice outdoor seating areas.
I was most excited about the stage though and realized that in my 33 years as a Waterboys fan this would be the smallest stage I have ever seen them on! I did not even have to choose at whose side of the stage I was going to stand (I am normally a Steve person), as everyone would be close. It was a lovely setting, with an elevated part to the side where people also stood. The sound was good and there were no interruptions for technical issues (a plus as Mike Scott is known to halt songs if something displeases him).
The band are in the second phase of the 'Out Of All This Blue' album cycle. They started off last autumn playing theatres with a 9 piece band, which Mike Scott wanted to resemble Joe Cocker's 'Mad Dogs And Englishmen' touring band. Those shows included a large chunk of their latest double album. I am all in favour of artists presenting new music to audiences and I like the album, so I loved the show I saw, but casual and more retro-minded fans grumbled about the lack of oldies. On Twitter Mike responded with “Want to hear old songs? Go and see a covers band”.
All the same, for the current run of shows Mike has slimmed down the line up and opted for a varied setlist, with songs that span his entire career. The Waterboys are an ever-changing group of musicians, though the core of the band has been steady for quite some time now. Mike Scott and the-fellow-who-fiddles Steve Wickham are joined by drummer Ralph Salmins and keyboard player Brother Paul – a flamboyant American resembling a cross between the keyboardists out of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Muppets band (in a very good way). Dubliner Aongus Ralston on bass and backing singers Jess Kav and Zeenie Summers complete the current line up.
Since those album release shows last autumn the band have gelled and the current line up is as good as any of their previous incarnations. There have been so many! The Big Music line up with Karl Wallinger and Anto Thistlethwaite, the raggle taggle period featuring Sharon Shannon and Noel Bridgeman, the acoustic trio of Mike, Steve and keyboardist Richard Naiff (still one of my favourites) and the great 'Modern Blues' band with David Hood and Zach Ernst.
To please the people who are adverse to hearing music they have not known for 25 plus years the set started with 'Medicine Bow' (of 'This Is The Sea') and 'All The Things She Gave Me' (from 'A Pagan Place'). They went even further back with the song from their debut album that Mike wrote as a tribute to Patti Smith, 'A Girl Called Johnny'.
A visual highlight was the performance of 'We Will Not Be Lovers', with Steve Wickham and the girls wearing theatrical masques and band members mimicking the locking of horns. From the same period was the beautiful 'When Ye Go Away' – my very favourite song out of everything they have done. The newer material fitted well into this set. From the latest album they played 'If The Answer Is Yeah' and Mike's song about Brother Paul, 'Nashville Tennessee'.
Highlight of the set for me were the two songs from the second-last album 'Modern Blues'. Jess Kav was given the opportunity to shine on 'Still A Freak', and what a voice she has! Next Steve sat down to play a pedal steel-type instrument and we heard the voice of Jack Kerouac reading an excerpt from 'On The Road'. I remembered this song being the highlight of the Waterboys' set at Glastonbury's Pyramid stage a few years ago and once again this long and anthemic song sounded great. I once heard Mike in an interview singling this out as one of his own favourite songs.
They finished off with 'The Whole Of The Moon' and 'Fisherman's Blues'. New arrangements and contributions from the backing singers and Brother Paul injected some freshness into these classics. For the encore they played 'How Long Will I Love You', a song of 'Room To Roam' from 1990, that was a hit more recently for Ellie Goulding. Not one of my favourites but again livened up by Brother Paul enthusiastically adding vocals towards the end.
It was too short a gig for me, but that is a good complaint to have. Next the Waterboys will be reviving an old band tradition by embarking on a Christmas tour of Ireland. I was at their 1990 Christmas shows in Cork and Galway and have very fond memories of them. Dates are still being added.