Mercury Rev / Lyla Foy – The Tolbooth, Stirling – Tuesday 24th April, 2018
An evening of firsts. This was the first time I’d seen a band tour an album for a *third* time whilst, due to the See Tickets fuck-up, it was also the first visit to Stirling’s Tolbooth. Both firsts turned out rather well.
The venue is one of these municipal cultural venues which is far more interesting inside than the unenticing exterior might suggest. The actual live room is a bit of a box but has decent sound and good lighting as well.
However, despite the eventual outcome, I confess I had some reservations about seeing an album toured for the third time. My first reaction when the dates were announced was – Mercury Rev are playing small Scottish venues – go!
The second was a little more circumspect – why are they touring that album again? The approach to the album in full shows had already departed significantly from the original tour dates. In 2011 the songs were presented close to their recorded incarnations whereas in 1998-9 the songs sounded completely different. The spin on this series of dates therefore was that the songs would be presented as close to possible to their original demo form with a stripped back line-up.
So there was no drum kit, just a single drum (and it wasn’t used for the vast majority of the set). Jonathan on acoustic guitar and Grasshopper on electric guitar (with some ear piercing harmonica early on) were backed by regular Jesse Chandler on keyboards (and flute) and newcomer (I think) JB Meijers predominantly on lap steel but, occasionally to great effect, on trumpet. The four piece were also bolstered by support artist Lyla Foy on guitar and backing vocals from about halfway through the set.
Certainly the initial songs stayed true to the pre-publicity and both opener ‘The Funny Bird’ and ‘Tonite …’ were almost funereal. There were a couple of surprises to follow – ‘Peaceful Night’ from ‘See You On The Other Side’ and a cover of Pavement’s ‘Here’ and both respected the quieter approach. But gradually things became more intense. ‘Endlessly’ and a chilled ‘Stomp’ felt far more full blooded whilst ‘Holes’, complete with heart-breaking trumpet solo from JB, was simply wonderful.
None of which however prepared us for the finale, the closing ‘Opus 40’. Last year the band had managed to add an orchestral climax to the song which perhaps didn’t quite match the power of the electric live band. But, even without a drummer, this version was so much more satisfying. 8 minutes long the song was initially an exercise in restraint, then frustration even, as the band resolutely refused to push the plunger, even if you knew it was going to come. So it was quite a relief when Lyla moved to bang the one drum and the band finally exploded into full psychedelic freak-out mode with every available weapon being deployed. “Fucking awesome” as the guy in front of me stated.
Although ‘Dark’ was listed on the setlist after ‘Opus 40’, it wasn’t played and we were left only with a life affirming encore of ‘Goddess on a Hiway’. Despite the short set, I can’t say I felt short changed on the night, but to find out a couple of days later that 13 songs had been played in Edinburgh the following night was a bit disappointing.
Support as mentioned above came from Lyla Foy a solo singer/songwriter who encapsulated what you’d expect of a Deserters Song support. Her hushed set and minimalist playing sounded a bit like a spectral Tanya Donnelly whilst the general atmosphere and, particularly, the reverb drenched vocals on the final song, brought to mind Julee Cruise. It was a little incongruous therefore that her most upbeat song sounded like it had borrowed the guitar line from ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’!
Mercury Rev played:
1 The Funny Bird 2 Tonite It Shows 3 Peaceful Night 4 Hudson Line 5 Here 6 Endlessly 7 Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp 8 Holes 9 Opus 40
10 Goddess on a Hiway
The band have made a recording of the ’99 era live band performing at SXSW available to purchase here.
It’s also available on Spotify which is where you can hear this version of ‘Opus 40’:
There’s actually a big range of Rev live shows available at their Bandcamp and, to a lesser extent, on Spotify.