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Live review. Riding the tide with The Waterboys

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Mike Scott and his Waterboys arrived in Cambridge on the crest of a wave following their recently released album ‘Out Of All This Blue’. It’s surely one of the grooviest-sounding Waterboys albums yet and, incidentally, their highest album chart placing since 1993. My appetite had been whetted for what might be in store considering they have a back catalogue that spans 35 years and would be the envy of most other artists. According to a reliable source, Cambridge is ‘a Waterboys town’ and fans had indeed turned out in numbers on an inclement Sunday evening. Although, surprisingly, it hadn’t sold out.

The Waterboys acted as their own support with a 40-minute first set followed by a longer second set, which worked well, providing a clutch of tracks from the new album, and a generous smattering of old favourites. They stormed straight into ‘Medicine Bow’ from the epochal ‘This Is The Sea’ album and – right from the off – it was clear that the sound of ‘The Big Music’ hadn’t dimmed. It was interesting to see who would join Scott tonight, as The Waterboys have one of those ever-shifting line-ups – always revolving around Scott himself.

Tonight’s line-up was superb, and each song offered a brilliant cornucopia of riffs, musical shifts and a dazzling display of showmanship. However, the core of the band remains Mike Scott and his age-old accomplice and ‘partner in time’, fiddle-player Steve Wickham. If Scott is the mind, heart and soul of The Waterboys then Wickham could be its sonic DNA. Just a few strokes into perennial favourite ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ confirmed that this is not just a collection of hired hands. The onstage chemistry was staggering, particularly on a song like ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ where Scott’s guitar and Wickham’s fiddle bounced off each other, begging the question: how do they do that?

Halfway through the evening Scott magnanimously dedicated ‘Still A Freak’ to the memory of Syd Barrett. After all, when in Cambridge… He asked the audience if anyone had been at the Corn Exchange for Syd’s last live performance there in 1972. Not surprisingly, no one had. Meanwhile, the coruscating and emphatic ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’ left us in no doubt that if you want music with a passionate edge then Mike’s yer man. The final verse about the world being ‘full of trouble’ and ‘people scrambling like dogs for a share’ is a somewhat prescient sentiment considering that the song is 30 years old. Other highlights included the epic ‘Too Close To Heaven’, a hymnal ‘The Christ In You’, and a beautifully stripped down and understated ‘Don’t Bang The Drum’.

As the gig soared to a climax, the soul-inflected backing vocals of Zeenie Summers and Jess Kavanagh shone through; the “too high, too far, too soon” refrain from The Whole Of The Moon was seductive. There was no way that the tide tonight could resist the pull of the moon! The rhythm section was solid as a rock in a dreamy land(scape), and the startling stabs and swirls of Brother Paul’s Hammond infused the Waterboys’ wall of sound with a fabulous retro sheen.

Too high? Too far? Too soon? Not at all Mike. You can come back anytime. After all, Cambridge is now very much a Waterboys town. Catch them when they’re next here because The Waterboys are a treasure – and dear to us. So we gave them our love…

Words by Chris Williams