Mercury Rev / Chameleons Vox – Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh – 19th May 2011

Mercury Rev have never followed a predictable course as the album at the heart of this tour illustrates.

It’s sometimes hard to remember now but ‘Deserter’s Songs’ was very much seen as a last throw of the dice by the band. Yet a miraculous set of circumstances not only brought this band back from the brink but saw them a previously undreamt of level of success.

Undeniably part of the reason for that success was the touring the band did to promote ‘Deserter’s Songs’. And if you didn’tt see that tour, then you may be surprised how far apart the recorded and live versions of the songs actually were.

On one hand, the LP was an ambitious record creating of a new Americana for the 21st century which drew its inspiration not just from the late 60s but also from Disney show tunes. Presented in a live setting though the songs were imbued with the ferocity of the band’s earlier incarnations. Simply put Mercury Rev were the best live band on the planet in 1999.

All of which led to an intriguing conundrum. Would this tour be a return to the original live style of performances or would Mercury Rev choose to doing things differently by presenting the record far closer to the original recordings?

Never a band to stand still, it’s no surprise that the latter is  the option chosen.

The early songs therefore mirror their recorded versions and actually sound quite close in tone to some of ‘The Secret Migration’ material. As is often the case with these things, there are songs that were rarely if ever performed back in the day. So there’s rare outings not just for the instrumentals from the record but also‘Hudson Line’, a song I’d never heard live before.

Even ‘Opus 40’ sounds like it’s heading in a much more mellow direction – that is until Jonathan straps on a guitar and the spirit of ‘99 is reclaimed for a spectacular few minutes.

It’s a gambit that brings the show fully to life and thereafter the structure of the rest of the LP lends itself pretty well to bringing the set to a decent climax with ‘Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp’.

I’d expected the encore(s) to be fairly substantial and a run through the best of the rest of the band’s back catalogue. But there’s only 1 encore, albeit of 4 songs.
Rather unexpectedly it starts with a faithful version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ before we’re back on firmer ground with ‘Car Wash Hair’ and an awesome ‘The Dark Is Rising’.

There is then, to my ears at least, something of a tease as they emerged from the end of ‘Dark’ with what suspiciously sounded like the intro of ‘Syringe Mouth’. But in fact they fly straight into a frenzied take on the highlight of the last LP ‘Senses on Fire’. It feels like the end and so it turns out.

To be honest, it doesn’t, for me, match the excitement of the original shows but at least Mercury Rev made it a bit more unpredictable than many of these classic album shows can be.

Earlier we’d made the cardinal error of missing the start of the set by Chameleons Vox. Their inclusion as support was explained by Jonathan during a lengthy mid set ‘talk’.

I never saw the original Chameleons line up but surprisingly given that as far as I’m aware there’s only Mark Burgess from the original present, it all sounds exactly like the Chameleons.

We still managed to catch half an hour of the set with the highlight probably ‘Soul In Isolation’. I recognised all the other songs but would struggle to put names to them, although they did finish with ‘Pleasure and Pain’ and there were definitely songs from the earlier LPs played.

I did enjoy what I saw but felt that the running order could have provided more of a build up to the finale. I do quite fancy digging out the old Chameleons vinyl though.

Mercury Rev have released an expanded version of ‘Deserter’s Songs’, get it here.

Mercury Rev played:

1-13 Deserter’s Songs


14. Solsbury Hill  15. Car Wash Hair  16. Dark Is Rising  17. Senses on Fire