It was a case of out with the old and in with the new as the Waterboys returned to the Sage Gateshead last night, October 23.
The folk-rock act’s 12th and latest album, Out of All This Blue, released last month, was their biggest hit for decades, returning them to the top 10, at No 8, for the first time since 1993, and that vote of confidence from the record-buying public was echoed by the band’s setlist.
No fewer than 13 of the 23 tracks on its standard two-disc edition featured among the 20 songs they played over the course of their two-hour show, leaving the rest of an illustrious history dating back to their formation in Edinburgh in 1983 to be summed up in just seven songs.
That made a bold change from the conventional approach taken by most bands of playing greatest-hits sets with maybe a handful of new tunes thrown in to bring things up to date, but it didn’t entirely pay off as enjoyable though their new record is, not all of it hits the same heights reached by many of its predecessors.
The irritating If I was Your Boyfriend and unremarkable Nashville, Tennessee, for instance, probably wouldn’t make it into even a top 100 of Waterboys songs most fans would be looking forward to hearing, and the band’s last album, 2015’s Modern Blues, deserved a better showing than just the one track, Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy), welcome inclusion though that was.
Still, frontman Mike Scott is a man in love, with his wife of the last year, Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, and the 58-year-old Scot wants to tell us all about it, both on the album and in front of a packed concert hall, despite promising to draw a veil over proceedings during Morning Came Too Soon, one of the new songs featured, and it would be a churlish concert-goer indeed to begrudge him his obvious happiness for the benefit of those more partial to tortured artist-type material.
Another consequence of dwelling so long on the poppier material making up the new LP was that long-time fiddle-player Steve Wickham appeared to be at a loose end for a fair chunk of the evening, but given the sheer scale of the band this time round – nine members, plus support act Sophie Morgan at one point to take them into double figures – he was possibly always destined to play less of a role than he would, say, in a band of half those proportions.
Joining vocalist and guitarist Scott and fellow core members Wickham on violin, Ralph Salmins on drums, Paul Brown on keyboards and Aongus Ralston, replacing David Hood on bass, were additional guitarist Bart Walker, extra drummer Jon Green and backing singers Jess Kav and Zennie Summers.
That sizeable ensemble, the last two particularly, did add an extra dimension to some of the seven old songs given an airing, including 1985’s Medicine Bow, an excellent take on 1990’s How Long Will I Love you?, set closer The Whole of the Moon and encore Fisherman’s Blues, making for a memorable night, even taking into account any reservations about the short shrift shown to over three decades’ worth of back catalogue.