The last time Mike Scott and the Waterboys were in town, the original iPhone had just been released and George W. Bush was still the president.
That was six long years ago. Scott and band returned to Seattle Friday night for a packed show at the Neptune Theatre. His hair (and that of his fans) grayer, Scott proved he hasn’t let the years slow him down with an energetic, two-hour marathon of old favorites and songs off his latest project, the collection of adapted W.B. Yeats poems “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats.”
After a mostly unmemorable opening set from fellow Scotsman Freddie Stevenson, Scott didn’t waste any time indulging the decidedly older crowd with two cuts off 1988’s “Fisherman’s Blues,” starting off with “Strange Boat” before playing the title track. It was a smart move to get the show rolling with arguably the band’s most well-known tune and set the tone early: The Waterboys had come to play.
Whether it was “Still A Freak,” a rocking brand-new tune, or the reflective “Glastonbury Song,” the band’s sound was anchored by longtime member Steve Wickham, the Irish fiddler whose soaring riffs were omnipresent.
The rest of the band has for years been a revolving door of talented musicians. Over 60 different musicians have been in the band at one point or another, but the group Scott assembled for the current tour seemed like they’ve been playing together for years. The chemistry between lead guitarist Jay Barclay and Wickham provided the band’s heart.
The soul, as always, was Scott, dressed in a subtle pinstripe suit with a gold scarf cascading down his chest. Scott’s signature gravelly tenor was in fine form and he seemed to truly relish revisiting the band’s vast back catalog. He hit on songs ranging from the band’s first single, “A Girl Called Johnny,” to “The Whole Of The Moon,” one of its most popular hits.
Scott also made sure to touch on plenty of tracks from “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats.” The Yeats epic “Song of Wandering Aengus,” deliberate at first, became a hard-driving rocker with a climactic guitar solo. “White Birds,” which Scott described as Yeats’ best love poem, also built slowly toward a cathartic end.
If the Waterboys had decided to pack it in after they struck the final chord to “Don’t Bang The Drum,” no one would have blamed them. They had already played well over 90 minutes and ripped through 15 songs.
But like a visit with an old friend you don’t get to see very often, it seemed the band had a hard time saying goodbye. They lingered for a four-song encore and finally bade farewell with the frenetic “Be My Enemy” from the band’s minor masterpiece, “This Is the Sea” (1985).
Just before the house lights came up, Scott and his bandmates stood at the edge of the stage for one final bow, one final look into a roomful of old friends as the crowd roared its approval.
And like a reunion between old friends, there were promises made to not make it so long until next time. “See you next year,” Scott told the crowd.
Sounds good to us.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails