The Phantom Tollbooth
October '98 Pick of the Month

The Live Adventures of The Waterboys
Artist: The Waterboys
Label: New Millenium Communications
Time:  2 CDs: Disc 1 - 10/50.35  Disc2 - 8/56.00

At risk of sounding trite, the British Isles have a very rich musical heritage, and it often surprises me that more bands don't draw on it when formulating their own sound.  I don't recommend that bands simply retread already traveled folk and folk-rock roads, but those artists who take the time to explore their musical heritage often find themselves the better for it. One band that certainly did explore that heritage was Mike Scott's Waterboys. Through the eighties and into the early nineties, despite a fluctuating line-up, they performed countless live shows and recorded a string of highly regarded (and in some cases high selling) albums, but never released a live album. Here is the long awaited album fans have hoped for.

Live albums usually feature either a set of shows edited together, or a single show tidied up later in the studio. Neither of these discs appears to have been dubbed over, but New Millennium Communications (a company specializing in releasing archive material) have chosen to produce one disc of edited together material and one complete live set. This decision appears to have been a good one; both discs have rough edges but between
the two of them there is a wealth of strong material.

All the band's signature tunes have been incorporated:  "Medicine Bow," "Fisherman's Blues," "The Pan Within," "A Girl Called Johnny," "This is the Sea," and, of course, "Whole of the Moon." Presumably the second disc has been edited somewhat, as no song appears twice in the whole collection.  In some ways that is a shame; it would have been interesting to compare two versions; however, since it means more material could be incorporated, I won't complain.

The first disc opens with a curious choice of tracks.  "Death is Not the End" is a Dylan song that the band makes their own with wailing violin and Mike Scott's passionate Scottish vocals. This is not the only cover version featured:  Prince's (this was before the TAFKAP days) "Purple Rain" and the traditional "Meet Me at the Station" are also included, as are quotes and extracts from Bruce Springsteen, W B Yeats, and William Blake's famous hymn "Jerusalem."

The listener interested in Christian content will find this band full of paradoxes. While "Meet Me at the Station"'s references to heaven can be taken with a pinch of salt due to its folk song nature, there are numerous other references which transform some songs into worship songs for me. But then there is the other side of things.  "The Pan Within," with its positive references to the pagan god Pan, being a perfect example.  As a lyricist, Mike Scott is a spiritual seeker who is certainly interested in a Christian world- view of things, but appears to be closer to the New Age movement than to orthodox Christianity.

Probably easier to identify are Scott's political leanings. The album was recorded during one of the many times that the Conservative government was systematically destroying the coal mining industry in the UK, and this accounts for Scott's dedication in "We Will Not Be Lovers" to "Atilla the Hun, Adolf Hitler, Michael Heseltine (government minister), the blue (Conservative color) meanies, the Joker, the Incredible Hulk, Mrs.Thatcher..."  These political references are an essential part of the Waterboys, and actually adds appeal for this British Islander reviewer.  Spiritual matters aside, listening to this album makes me wish more and more that I had seen the Waterboys live. The extended versions of songs, the increased energy and passion, and the opportunity to hear previously unrecorded songs all make live shows an essential memory for fans, and yet this is the closest I'll ever come.  Musically the band were at their tightest in 1986 when this album was recorded.  The music is dense in its folk sounds and the staples of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and company are all present, along with a banjo for "Fisherman's Blues."  The piano and the trademark of the band's earlier material, the saxophone, also make periodic appearances.

Picking out The Waterboys's musical influences is not as easy as finding those the band have influenced (bands like The Crossing, Eden Burning, Caedmon's Call, the Electrics and countless others have all certainly felt the Waterboys's influence). Their choice of cover songs show that as a lyricist Scott was certainly influenced by Dylan and Springsteen, not to mention traditional folk influences along with the gospel, blues, and jazz greats. Additionally, the liner notes are informative and well produced, guiding the reader through this period in the band's evolution with some pleasant pictures.

Despite its flaws, this is certainly a ‘must have' for fans of the band, and should also prove a good introduction for new listeners.  Possibly one of the most influential bands of the 80's, it is a shame that so few people seem to remember them.  I recommend that you don't make that mistake.

By James Stewart  (8/14/98)

By first hand accounts, The Waterboys played with such emotional resonance that their live shows brought tears to the eye. Shedding virtual tears myself, I lament not ever seeing them in concert and The Live Adventures of The Waterboys further fuels my profound regret. Sadly, The Waterboys are no more, but you don't have to pine any longer. These two discs will take you back home and their aggressive mix of edgy, jazzy, Celtic folk rock has a timeless appeal that warrants repeated return visits. This collection holds powerful renditions of their earlier hits, not to mention such wonderfully fun covers as Prince's "Purple Rain" and the traditional "Meet Me at the Station." The packaging is superb, including great liner notes and photos. For my money, however, these two discs could have been a bit longer. The Waterboys had plenty of other songs, like "Don't Bang the Drum" and "Church Not Made with Hands," that would have made excellent inclusions. Regardless, what is presented is amply satisfying. All true fans of the band owe it to themselves to pick this one up--another testimony that The Waterboys were simply one of the best bands of the eighties and early nineties. I don't often enjoy live discs--this is one of the rare exceptions. A joyful trip down a lane worth remembering.
 
By Steven Stuart Baldwin (9/21/98)
 
Gratefully, Mike Scott is still getting his music out. For more information about what he has been up to lately, see the review of his latest album, Still Burning, at http://www.tollbooth.org/reviewm/mscott98.html

A folk-rock band headed by Scottish singer/songwriter and guitarist Mike Scott, The Waterboys were at their peak musically when this was recorded, and it is amazing how well this music has held up. Proving its timeless quality, it sounds like it was recorded only months ago instead of twelve and a half years. In fact, this album contains tracks taken from their best shows back in ‘86, including the semi-legendary and much pirated Glastonbury Show, which featured an epic version of "Savage Earth Heart." Most of their own material was from This is the Sea, their current album at the time. It also includes material from all their previous albums starting with the first Waterboys’s single ever released, “A Girl Called Johnny,” and ending with some tunes from their Fisherman’s Blues  period which were previously unreleased until now. Wow! How time flies. As with most live albums, things are a bit rough in places, but with Scott’s voice this only adds to the charm. While I enjoy the whole album, the Dylan cover “Death is Not the End” is my favorite. This is a must for fans and would make a great introduction to newcomers, especially appealing to fans of Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn.

By Shari Lloyd (9/24/98)