They came, they conquered, they sawed...
Say what you like about Mercury Rev‘s spooky, freak-show baroque’n’roll, they’re no dummies. This two night residency at the grand old Empire is wisely lodged firmly between Halloween and Bonfire Night, and for once the lonesome howls and ghoulish faces you can make out in the half-light aren’t just those of the industry-types clamouring for a drink in the upstairs bar.
Yes siree, we’re lost deep in the goth-rock backwoods from the minute the Rev amble on, and they don’t let us out of their icy grip until final sprawling encore ‘The Dark Is Rising’.
It’s quite a spectacle. First off, there’s Jonathan Donahue himself. Broomstick-thin and ashen-faced, he approaches centre-stage with all the studied poise of an Olympic gymnast impersonating Keith Richards. Dripping in runic bangles and chain-smoking -there’s even an ashtray welded to his mic-stand – he ushers in a glacial ‘Tides Of The Moon’ and the Rev are off, rolling out into an uncharted wilderness somewhere between ‘Deerhunter’ and Hogwart’s School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
At times they get lost out there. During the more epic moments Jonathan spins on his cuban heels to conduct an imaginary orchestra, and, eyes-popping and arms flailing, he becomes less an avenging sonic phantom and more reminiscent of, well, the Judder Man (from the advert to Metz alcopops). When he’s on more familiar space-country territory however, like on glorious traipses through ‘Goddess On A Highway’ and ‘Carwash Hair’, he retains an unarguable, spectral star-presence.
Grasshopper has his own ideas. Throwing enough righteous rock’n’roll shapes to keep even a watching Bryan Adams happy, he seems keen to reassure us Jonathan’s theatrics will not, as some have feared in the wake of ‘All Is Dream’, be leading Mercury Rev up the gothic garden path to the palace of self-indulgence.
Having blown the cobwebs off of Rev -relic ‘Chasing A Bee’ during the encores (Grasshopper in axe-solo mode; Jonathan staring forlornly into the middle-distance) JD then gets his revenge by performing a three minute solo on a hand-saw.
Security look distressed. The crowd shrug. Behind his shades, however, you can almost see Grasshopper wince. Do the nerve-jangle.