posted on November 10, 2008 09:44
Mercury Rev (live in Róisín Dubh, Galway)
Review Snapshot: With their recorded output of late suggesting the band have lost their studio and creative focus, their current tour is a litmus test of whether they still have the live presence to carry what is, after all, a largely stunning back catalogue. The intimate confines of Róisín’s suggested – in parts – that they haven’t and they won’t.
The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10
For all of the diminishing returns in the studio in recent years, Mercury Rev have always been an eminently bankable live act. Live, their songs have been free to breathe, far away from studio excesses and overproduction.
One of the most intriguing prospects prior to this show was how they would transform 2008’s disappointing ‘Snowflake Midnight’ into the live arena. The results are unconvincing, with the notable exception of ‘Senses on Fire’ which retains its insistent menace and brings a thrilling end to proceedings.
That they choose to open with ‘Snowflake in a Hot World’, however, neatly documents their current dilemma. It starts off well enough – the anticipation of the crowd married to a perfectly drawn out intro, but it quickly becomes apparent that the song doesn’t have the legs and it’s outstayed its welcome long before the band segue into ‘October Sunshine’.
Perhaps most tellingly of all however, is the complete absence of any material from ‘Yerself Is Steam’. ‘Frittering’ - long a staple live favourite, and always a welcome reminder that the band are still aware of how they started out - has been jettisoned completely. There’s no ‘Tonite It Shows’ and you feel that, as they’ve chosen to play any number of weak tracks from ‘Snowflake Midnight’, they’re short-changing an audience who raucously react to ‘Opus 40’ and ‘Goddess On A Highway’.
Jonathon Donahue is unquestionably an engaging frontman, yet he veers into Jim Kerr territory far too often. I awaited the call to ‘Let me see your hands’ which, mercifully, never arrived. However, on two separate occasions, as he croons about ‘wings’ and ‘birds’, he chooses mimic a bird taking flight. It’s frankly embarrassing. Jesus, this man once wrote ‘Carwash Hair’
And yet there are positives too. ‘Holes’ – one of their finest tracks – gets an early airing and the band manage to replicate that spaced out timelessness perfectly. ‘The Dark is Rising’ retains its anthemic charm without ever veering into bombast, whilst their scarcely recognisable cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’ reminds those present that Mercury Rev have always had a penchant for tasteful covers as an integral part of their live performances (a wonderfully tender cover of Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’ immediately springs to mind).
Based on this performance then, it’s clear that the magic is still there. What is in doubt – and the gig does little to provide an answer – is the next direction Mercury Rev are headed. ‘Deserter’s Songs’, took the band down a road of reinvention, where the band discovered the new in borrowing from what was already around them – the great American landscape. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that route.