The Waterboys – Live at Variety Playhouse

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What do you do in a place like this?


This, of course.


And so it was that, from right to left, my concert buddy, my coulda-been- concert buddy-had-he-not-moved-to-Chattanooga, and I were off to see The Waterboys... along with my concert buddy’s buddy who just hit his one show per year limit... and arriving too late for this remembrance.  You snooze, you lose, buddy.

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My concert buddy introduced me to The Waterboys a long time ago.  They play a mix of rock and roll and Irish/British folk music.  I don’t like about half of their songs, but the ones I do favor I listen to a lot (especially including leader Mike Scott’s solo work).

Tracking their first tour in the U.S. is kind of like tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.  They’re up there, then they’re going over there, then... where the heck are they?  Miracles upon miracles, they booked a few shows down South before returning to Europe.  And, not only that, but at my favorite venue AND on a night when work couldn’t interfere.  Splendid.

Their last visit to Atlanta was 2001.  I had no idea what their fan base might look like today, but we put our money down early and then waited months for the show date to arrive.  Thus, the celebratory pre-show beers at Little Five Points’ Porter Beer Bar, a great place for a burger and as fine a selection of draught beers as can be found in Atlanta.


In our periodic speculation about this show, we knew we wanted to arrive early, early enough to grab the cheap plastic chairs that Variety Playhouse tends to put on the floor area for shows where the type of music and a respectful crowd are likely to take a seat, rather than standing for hours at stage front...

... except they didn’t.  We opted for a side table, back a ways, with a view unobstructed by those that would be standing down front.

The opening act, Freddie Stevenson, is a storytelling singer from Scotland.  He had a fairly captivating set.  The folk vibe made perfect sense for the headliner to come.


Then came the rock show.   With the venue filled to near capacity, The Waterboys came on and blew the house away.  And to think we were expecting the plastic chair treatment.


The band opened with two songs from their more traditional styled album, “Strange Boat” and the title track of Fisherman’s Blues.  But notwithstanding Steve Wickham’s excellent fiddle, this was a full rock presentation, and one that had the crowd remaining on their feet well into the show.

The set list (at the end of this review), included all phases of the band’s career, so everyone was certain to be pleased about something.  As Scott considers his solo career to essentially be part of the band’s history, that left me a bit wanting, but there’s no arguing the songs they selected.

Shortly into the show, Scott mentioned the passing of the legendary Lou Reed, mentioning that “he’s the one who gave us our name,” a reference to the lyrics in “The Kids” on his Berlin album.   For such a moment, Scott added “we’ll fill a moment of silence,” after which the band noisily filled the minute with whatever licks they happened to favor.  Afterwards, they played a solid version of “Waiting for the Man,” which must have been a hastily prepared rehearsal given that Reed had died just a few hours earlier. 

Highlights?  Well, the entirety was a highlight.  There were no bad moments.  The two newer songs stood with the others well, not to mention the unspoken promise of more Waterboys’ releases to come.

The trio of songs from their most recent release, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, were especially good, though.  “Whitebirds” all but took flight, and “Mist and Snow” brought a bit of theatre to accent the lyrics, plus a too-brief guitar and fiddle duel.


The acoustic “When Ye Go Away” was also a treat, but it punctuated what had already been heard, namely that Scott’s accent, inflections, and pronunciations were marvelously clear regardless of the type of music or the volume.  If he came to impress upon the crowd that The Waterboys, despite their 30 years, were alive and well, he did just that.


While The Waterboys necessarily include Mike Scott, a review shouldn’t fail to mention the other long time member, Steve Wickham.   When the fiddle is mixed with rock music, it can come across as forced, inappropriate, or plainly unwelcome in the sonic mix.  Wickham knows his craft, and both as a background instrument for adding color and for piercing leads, Wickham owned the evening instrumentally, a really fine, fine performance.


The remainder of the band were all hired for the U.S. tour and have probably been together a year or so.  Scott chose well, and this band delivered.

The show ended all too soon (not just an expression in this case), but the best news was that they’re already making touring plans to return to the U.S. next year.  And, he was specific to Atlanta.  We’ll hold him to it.



5 of 5 STARS




Strange Boat
Fisherman’s Blues
A Girl Named Johnny
Waiting for the Man (Lou Reed cover)
We Will Not Be Lovers
Still a Freak (new song)
The Girl in the Swing
Song of Wandering Aengus
When Ye Go Away
Glastonbury Song
White Birds
The Whole of the Moon
I Can See Elvis (new song)
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Mad as the Wind and Snow
Don’t Bang the Drum


You in the Sky
Be My Enemy


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