London King’s Cross Depot

It must be said, the result is that [a]Mercury Rev[/a] are vastly inferior live compared to their records...

If you judge a band by the company it keeps, [a]Mercury Rev[/a] are in trouble. You’d think that bedsitland would have spewed forth an army of lovelorn junkie loners to fill the Forum tonight but instead, the venue is full of greying, middle-aged music biz types. And, er, that’s pretty much it. If this crowd is anything to go by, far from being the triumphant crossover that we hoped, ‘Deserter’s Songs’ remains firmly an ‘industry’ album.

This is not good news for the Rev. For a start, the industry doesn’t buy records. And, almost as bad, the way the industry shows its approval for something is to chuck money at it. Mercury Rev‘s reputation is mostly based on the fact that they managed to convert their wonky vision into such beautiful music on a relatively shoestring budget and against all the odds. That ‘Deserter’s Songs’ didn’t sound like an underdeveloped, lo-fi project that left everyone wondering what it might have been like had Radiohead‘s money been available to them is a victory for creativity over investment and the basis of their ‘genius’.

Trouble is, now they have all the equipment they could wish for, all the lasers and the gizmos. Now they have the man who manages Oasis as their manager too. And they sound as if they’re underachieving. You wanna duke it out with the Pink Floyds? You gotta go some, buddy. The bubble machine and the fake snow might have been cute when it was all that they had, but now it looks like saddo indie affectation.

This is probably not news to [a]Mercury Rev[/a]. They appear to live in perpetual fear of growing familiar. Hence for this, the third Rev London gig in as many months, they have changed the set to encompass a lot of their ‘Yerself Is Steam’ and ‘See You On The Other Side’ LPs which inevitably perplexes the ‘Deserter’s Songs’ converts. As for the songs the crowd does know, in the hands of a great live band, the material from ‘Deserter’s Songs’ would surely by now have developed fresh nuances in performance. But they have just been [I]adapted[/I] rather than grown. And, it must be said, the result is that [a]Mercury Rev[/a] are vastly inferior live compared to their records.

The songs are good, nothing can change that. But they either trudge along without the orchestral arrangements or rush to cram into the set, shortened by support act, Garth Hudson of The Band wibbling over his allotted time and, ironically, aborting his mooted encore with the Rev. The only dramatic moments are Grasshopper’s solos (prerequisite wig-out on ‘Chasing A Bee’, top fret karaoke on ‘Carwash Hair’ when he does Allman Brothers, Neil Young [I]and[/I] the Floyd!). The only surprises are the shaky covers; the old crooners’ classic ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and Lennon‘s ‘Isolation’.

The rest of the gig, they never reach the extremes that their catalogue begs for. To use the terminology so often employed when reviewing psychedelic bands like the Rev, we expect to be shot ecstatic to the stars, then crash and burn incandescent. Tonight they never take off. Earthbound, tired and old.