It’s the night before Christmas Eve and we’re glad to duck out of a gale-ridden Liffey boardwalk into the pleasant surroundings of the auditorium in Dublin’s Convention Centre. So pleasant in fact, with its massive cinema-style seats (allied to some possible Christmas week torpor) that the audience is somewhat sleepy for the early part of this cracking tour-finale show from The Waterboys.
But, they’ll liven up as the night progresses. This tour is celebrating twenty-five years since the release of the ground-breaking Fisherman’s Blues album, or to paraphrase one of Mike Scott’s witty on-stage comments – also celebrating five weeks since the release of the groundbreaking Fisherman’s box-set, which is a six-CD round-up of the band’s sessions for that album.
And off we go with a nice opening Strange Boat – initially just Mike on solo guitar in front of a backdrop of Spiddal House (venue for some of the album’s sessions) before the band join him one by one. The sound is excellent, and the early part of the show is quite low key, with the first song to really hit us being three songs in, a spectacular You in the Sky. The dynamics of this beautiful tune are perfectly extrapolated by the blending of sax (from returning ex-band member Anthony Thistlethwaite), fiddle and vocal.
The show is not just Fisherman’s Blues material though, also featuring a few cover songs, with Mike proving again what a great Dylan interpreter he is on a lovely mid-tempo Girl From the North Country. The other outstanding cover is a version of Ray Charles’ Come Live With Me, with beautiful layering of the instruments by this reconfigured Waterboys line-up – the musicians showing their comfort with each other and an ability to improvise and build a performance.
Tenderfoot is a little-known song from the Fisherman’s sessions and proves there is more to this album than raggle-taggle, it being a wonderful slab of urban R&B, definitely one to check out on the box-set. And still to come we have show-stopping versions of the likes of Sweet Thing and Don’t Bang The Drum. It’s unusual to see Drum done stripped down to three instruments, it usually being an electric show-stopper, but it’s no less effective done this way, as Mike, Anto and of course Steve Wickham on fiddle, give us a different take on this classic.
For a good deal of the concert the atmosphere in the hall was not overly electric, but let’s give the audience the benefit of the doubt and assume they were intent on listening closely to this carefully designed Waterboys set-list. And to be fair, once the title track of the Fisherman’s Blues album kicks off, the crowd finally gets to its feet and shows a bit of Christmas cheer. This leads to a terrific closing brace of encores, the ever crowd-pleasing The Whole of the Moon, a gentle How Long Will I Love You (currently earning Mr Scott some royalties with the Ellie Goulding hit version) and a barnstorming show-closing Bang on the Ear, complete with a brace of extra guests such as Liam O’Maonlai and Glen Hansard. Job done. Great gig. Buy the box-set!