Mike Scott and his Waterboys made a memorable “appointment with Mr. Yeats” in front of a jam-packed and adoring crowd on Broadway’s Town Hall last Tuesday.
The show, the only one of it’s kind in North America, coincides with the stateside release of An Appointment With Mr. Yeats, an epic album of songs fashioned around the words of the famous poet.
I picked up a copy of the CD while traversing through Ireland a couple of years ago and here’s what I wrote about it back in 2011: “Scott has crafted musical soundscapes worthy of this classic prose. His ‘White Birds’ has a majestic chord structure that expands into the open air, the sound of seagulls bobbing atop the guitars.”
Let me amend this review here and now with an extra sentence -- An Appointment With Mr. Yeats is one of the most important Irish albums to be released in the 16 years I have been slinging ink for this column.
The music is a complex masterpiece that couches Yeats’ immortal words -- reason enough to buy the album as it gets released here this week – but it also inspires a deeper love of Yeats’ poetry and keeps the prose alive in an exhilarating new way.
The concert opened with “The Hosting of the Shee,” a rallying cry that has all the heavy-handed bombast that goes with a rock show.
Dressed in a black jacket, black striped pants, a black fedora and a gold sparkly scarf, you would be forgiven if you mistook the pouty-lipped Scott for Jagger or Tyler. Charisma oozed from every inch of his wispy frame, his fluid movements imbedded into each poem’s interpretation.
The epic “Mad As the Mist and Snow” made a bizarre left turn when Scott donned a three-faced mask and prowled the stage while his band wore pointed black masks. It was slightly cartoonish, though Steve Wickham played the fiddle like a man possessed.
Wickham’s playing is wonderfully versatile, with his scratches simulating seagulls on the poem “White Birds” before he leans in and does battle with the electric guitar soloist elsewhere.
For this show, an all-new American Waterboys was unveiled. "Touring America with a British/Irish band is tough financially and in the past has meant less shows, so I took the decision to assemble a new band for North America,” says Scott.
“I hand-picked the players myself, most of whom I spotted playing in New York and was blown away by.”
The new musicians are Elizabeth Ziman (vocals, from the band Elizabeth and the Catapult), Jay Barclay (guitar), Daniel Mintseris (keyboards, a member of St. Vincent), Malcolm Gold (bass), Ezra Oklan (drums) and Chris Layer (flute).
Ziman’s voice flourishes on the poem “Before the World Was Made. “What if I look upon a man as though am I beloved/why should he think me cool or that he is betrayed?” she sings, the sole electric piano cranking out spooky atmospherics as a backdrop.
The first and most stirring of all the encores of the night was “The Stolen Child,” the first Yeats poem set to music, from the classic album Fisherman’s Blues.
“Come away human child to the water/Come away human child to the waters and the wild/ With a faery hand in hand/For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand,” Scott sang, hunched over an electric piano as the band whirled around him.
“I’m well aware I’m sculpting with words of the very highest quality, and this spurs me to write music at the peak of my own abilities and expression,” Scott has said.
“The poems conjure an exquisite otherworld in my imagination, and I want to create the soundtrack of that world. But I’m not intimidated or anything like that. My job is to make the work as great as possible, same as it was for Yeats when he wrote or for me when I do my own music and lyrics.”
Scott succeeded, and mightily so, at accomplishing that on both the album itself and the evening’s performance. He ended the show with his own classic “Whole of the Moon,” proving his words can easily approach Yeats in greatness.
“See you in the summer,” he said before taking a bow.
Scott mentioned to me in an interview that he is working on new music, and there is also recent news that he will be releasing a massive seven-CD box set titled Fisherman’s Box, to commemorate a quarter century since the release of Fisherman’s Blues.
This compilation, containing 121 tracks and an incredible 85 unreleased tracks, will get an airing as the Waterboys will play a special tour of Britain and Ireland this December titled Fisherman’s Blues Revisited, reuniting Scott and Wickham with Fisherman's-era members Anto Thistlethwaite (Saw Doctors) and Trevor Hutchinson. Keep it tuned here for more information as it develops.
Watch The Waterboys peformance of 'Mad as the Mist and Snow' here