Vicar St, Nov 2nd
I would like to think most people at this gig knew Mercury Rev's old stuff but quite obviously by the shouts and scream at the more commercial tracks, many knew only, but fondly, of Deserter's Songs. Not that it really matters. Before it's release in 1998, the band were skirting the edges of success, their albums full of psychedelic reels of noise, their videos full avant-garde, low-fi production values and Ron Jeremy. For many bands, success usually drains away the earlier free-spirited energy and abandon that having no money and lots of problems usually carries. The big record companies mean business and the fun saps away, the releases tumble out only to fulfil contractual demands. Mercury Rev, thankfully, are not one of these groups. Instead, they grew into one of the most interesting and captivating live bands it is possible to see.
I met the cool new kids of the block, MGMT, in the audience before anything kicked off on stage. It spoke volumes to the importance of the band we were going to watch. Their influence is a weighty one. Always recognisable, their sound was reared in much the same format as say The Flaming Lips in that, for those early albums anyway, the likes of Boce and See You on the Other Side, song writing was based around a group of friends gathering and recording whatever turned up. It was free structure and free reign.
Overall, Mercury Rev's live departures are based on a three-fold system; visual, oral and aural attack. As well as having beautifully throbbing strobe lights throughout the show perfectly in sync with every single movement by the band, the gig kicked off with a film collage presented on the back screen that would play constantly throughout the gig with ever changing images, be it dolphins or fireworks, again all in sync with the feel and emotion of each individual song. The intro collage played out to the Cocteau Twins' Lorelei, perfect for its job here and one of the highlights of another bands astonishing career, consisted of revolving images of the greats that inspired Mercury Rev; books, singers, bands, albums, political figures and on and on.
When the band did appear, I half expected to see Jonathan Donahue in those trade mark shades but instead we got a clean, happy and open lead singer, willing to chat to the audience. On his left stood Grasshopper; the goofy guitarist, in shades. A man with an uncanny ability to drag out extraordinary things from his instrument. He served as the back bone to the squealing, moaning motions all night. They opened with Snowflake In a Hot World from their latest album Snowflake Midnight. Another, Sense on Fire, would be played much later on. I have not heard the new album but read reviews. I did not like the words 'krautrock' and 'electro' being used in the same sentence as Mercury Rev. The tracks worked well live but I am fearful of giving the LP a listen.
With such a diverse back catalogue, Mercury Rev are easily one of the only bands around touring today that can switch from ballad ('Holes') into soaring pop ('Rising Dark') and come crashing back down into fever pitch psychedelic freak outs ('Chasing a Bee,' You're my Queen' and 'Something for Joey') and then finish off with the classic commercial hits ('Goddess on a Highway' and 'Opus 40'). The latter, in a nod to their heroes, ending with the addition of a Talking Heads 'Once in a Lifetime' refrain. They covered all the terrain; the David Baker years, new singles, old singles and fan favourites.
But more than anything, it was the spectacularly dark aura sprinkled with light and weirdly immersing barrages of noise, that encapsulated the night for me. There were gentle melodies hovering over everything; the faint sounds of trumpets and strings and choirs. It was like a Grimms Fairy Tale; good and evil making sense together. I became very aware of just how good these guys were, not just as song writers but as musicians too. Not one bad track. Not one low ebb or embarrassing moment. Just monumental music and natural, flowing talent from beginning to end. When I turned to leave, the MGMT lads had gone. As good as they are, playing themselves in just two nights; they had indeed got their work cut out for them.