Mercury Rev with the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra and Simon Raymonde – Sage One, Gateshead – Wednesday 12th July, 2017

Rock bands playing with orchestras? To someone of my advancing years that screams 70s and prog rock (and not in a good way). But one of our favourite live bands, Mercury Rev, doing precisely that in the Sage One in Gateshead, a venue we’d had a longstanding hankering to visit? We’ll take a chance on that.

Arranged as one of a trilogy of UK shows arranged to celebrate the 20th anniversary of current label Bella Union the band’s line-up for the, ahem, concert was augmented not just by the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra but also by the presence of label boss Simon Raymonde on guitar.

Jonathon was in a very chatty mood throughout, even going as far as to interviewing Raymonde mid-show. But, crucial to the plot, Jonathon also admitted that he’d always thought that conducting was mainly for show. Having discovered in rehearsals that that was definitively not the case, he reckoned that he was not going to be carrying on in his usual fashion this time for fear of distracting the orchestra. Hmmm.

The different format leant itself to an eclectic setlist. Alongside a range of Rev standards there was a rake through some of the corners of the back catalogue that have mainly been gathering dust over the last couple of decades with a song apiece from ‘Boces’ and ‘See You On The Other Side‘. There was also a cover of ‘I Wished I’d Never Loved You’ penned by Simon Raymonde’s father (the lead on which was sung by labelmate Holly McVe).

Without doubt one of the drawbacks of this format is that it’s impossible to recreate the space jam sections on the likes of ‘Opus 40’. Nevertheless the full ensemble produced a spirited full orchestral climax to that very song which might not have quite summoned the full fury of the regular shows but was impressive nonetheless. And whilst the orchestra took a break, the band made one of its periodic returns to the Donaghue-era Flaming Lips with a cover of ‘There You Are’, the closest that the psychedelic rock band came to making an appearance.

The key Mercury Rev song, though, is undoubtedly ‘The Dark Is Rising’ – powerful in any context. Certainly, it’s the most obvious candidate for full orchestration but that didn’t make it any less wonderful. And Jonathon’s self restraint finally crumbled during the song as he vigorously shadowed the real conductor … with a lightsaber! Not planned at all then.

Spot the lightsaber!

It’s fair to say then that the show was much more Disney than psychedelic rock. Not that this should have come as any surprise to anyone – the spooky Disney feel has been around the Rev’s albums for a long time and Grasshopper and Jonathon’s love for these soundtracks was finally consummated on a cover of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’. Yep, everything over the last 25 plus years has led to this!

So, yeah, it was different. Even though, in lots of ways the side of the band that I love the most was posted missing, it was still a special occasion.

Mercury Rev Setlist

  1. Mercury Rev Overture (orchestra only)
  2. Central Park East
  3. A Drop In Time
  4. Downs Are Feminine Balloons
  5. Tonite It Shows
  6. Hercules
  7. I Wish I’d Never Loved You
  8. Endlessly
  9. Racing The Tide
  10. There You Are  (without orchestra)
  11. Holes
  12. Spiders and Flies
  13. Opus 40
  14. When You Wish Upon A Star
  15. The Dark Is Rising
  16. A Drop In Time (reprise) (orchestra only)

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