The most incandescent group on the planet right now...
So this must be the next life.
Three years after they served notice to see us on the other side, Mercury Rev reappear – to all intents and purposes, a new band. Of the six people onstage, only Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper survive the ravages of that last tour. So it is with help from their friends that the principal Revs set about resolving the salient issue of the moment: how is the band legendarily forged in the unhinged momentum of chaos, going to render the lush splendour of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ live without either a) screwing it up horribly, or b) cheating?
The answer is, they’ve got two keyboard players and love in their hearts. As the opening ‘Endlessly’ wafts us happily to the conclusion that everything’s going to be a whole lot better than alright, Donahue grins. He looks at Grasshopper, who though clenching a cigarette between his molars, manages to return the sentiment. And at that moment, [I]everyone[/I] in the venue is grinning. And hugging. And maybe even blushing. As we’ve established, this is a new band.
“Well, thank you very much,” Jonathan beams. “Looks like you guys came through a rough three years too!” Ah, he can laugh about it now. And why not? He’s about to play ‘Holes’. Mercury Rev play ‘Holes’ and the fabulous reality dawns: the first one wasn’t a fluke. As Justin Russo and Adam Snyder coax supernatural melodies from their pianos, Donahue sings this strange, funny, ineffably wise song like he’s off to heaven: “[I]Holes, dug by little moles[/I]”. Everyone smiles again.
Two songs in, it’s plain we are witnessing greatness. The thrill is tempered by the caveat that this is Mercury Rev and they’re almost duty bound to mess it up. Yet they never do. They play new songs, like ‘Opus 40’ and ‘Goddess On A Hiway’, and make ’em sound just like the record only better ‘cos there’s more noise and more loveliness. So channelled is the power they once tossed around like a cheap plastic toy that old songs are reborn. ‘Frittering’ becomes terrifying, Armageddon directed by The Who, Donahue and Grasshopper marvelling at each other’s new-found coherence. ‘Car Wash Hair’ just is ‘Car Wash Hair’, only more so. ‘Chasing A Bee’ feels more unnerving now it’s more than just an excuse to trampoline all the pedals simultaneously.
And then they play covers the way bands should play covers: unself-consciously and, if possible, better than the original. The Plastic Ono Band’s ‘Isolation’ and Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’ are tracers for the ultimate Mercurial coup: as an encore, how d’you fancy a 12-minute version of Neil Young’s ‘Cortez The Killer’? Just like Crazy Horse, only with bonus mad wibbling? The Rev breeze through it like, err, a hurricane.
Singing of genocidal conquistadors, Jonathan Donahue gazes down at the astonished throng and smiles. The leader of the most incandescent musical group on the planet right now has glittery beauty spots around each eye. Don’t let them leave us ever again.