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Pop Music Review

Mike Scott and the Waterboys Paddling Back

April 06, 2001|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

You can't keep a good singer-songwriter down, even though the Waterboys' Mike Scott has certainly seemed down for a long time--including much of the '90s, and even chunks of his concert Wednesday at the House of Blues.

One of the most gifted and inspiring figures in rock in the mid-'80s, the Edinburgh, Scotland, native turned out a series of Waterboys and solo albums in the '90s that were so uneventful that he largely disappeared from the pop radar screen.

But he is finally bouncing back. In his first U.S. tour with the Waterboys in more than a decade, Scott showed Wednesday he can still connect strongly when playing the best of the early tunes, both the soaring, anthem-like rock of his "This Is the Sea" period and the more intimate, Celtic-accented tones of the "Fisherman's Blues" days.

To reestablish himself, however, Scott needs new material of that quality--and there was little evidence of it for most of his two-hour set. There's a resilience to "Let It Happen," one of several songs he played from his forthcoming album, "A Rock in the Weary Land." But the tune seemed one-dimensional against the beauty and ambition of his most heralded music.

Even his four-piece band, which includes Waterboys veteran Steve Wickham on fiddle, offered little at first of the grand passion that was a trademark of the Waterboys during the "This Is the Sea" days.

About two-thirds of the way through the set, however, Scott showcased "Crown," an inspired tale of reflection and reevaluation from the new album that did recall the group's past glory.

The number seemed to jump-start Scott and the band, who went through the final numbers, mostly Waterboys standards, with a commanding sense of mission.

It was a late-show rally that didn't convince you Scott can regain his leadership role in rock, but made you feel he has a chance to still be a valuable contributor.

The opening act, B.R.M.C., is a terrific young band whose sound is patterned after the Jesus and Mary Chain's dark, seductive mix of lovely melodies and brutal, guitar-driven aggression. Live, the band sacrificed some of the subtleties of its outstanding self-titled debut album, but the set still suggested B.R.M.C. (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) has a keen understanding of the true emotional pulse of great rock 'n' roll.

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