Hear a rare stripped-back 1999 set from Mercury Rev

On Triple R's Archival Revival show this week

Melbourne community radio station Triple R has aired a rare stripped-back performance from Mercury Rev, recorded on the station’s rooftop in September, 1999.

The performance features just frontman Jonathan Donahue and guitarist Sean “Grasshopper” Mackowiak. The pair play intimate versions of tracks from their 1998 classic album ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and cover Neil Young’s ‘Motion Pictures’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’.

Donahue engages in plenty of characteristic storytelling banter in between songs – in introducing ‘Motion Pictures’, he says he was warned by Rick Danko from Neil Young’s band that there were “lots of rednecks” in Australia.


“From what I’ve seen, y’all the best looking and well-dressed rednecks I’ve ever seen,” Donahue laughs.

Triple R played the recording on the Archival Revival show with Kate Kingsmill last night (October 29) – listen to it here.

‘Deserter’s Songs’ was the band’s critical and commercial peak, released independently after being dropped for the disappointing response to their 1995 album ‘See You on the Other Side’.

As Kingsmill mentions during the show, Donahue credits the renewed enthusiasm for making ‘Deserter’s Songs’ with being asked by The Chemical Brothers to play on a song called ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ – shocked that they both remembered Mercury Rev, and liked them enough to seek him out.

NME would name ‘Deserter’s Songs’ its Album of the Year in 1998.


Other recent entries in the Archival Revival series include a live performance from The Strokes in 2001, recorded two weeks before the release of their classic debut ‘Is This It’, The Go-Betweens at 2001 Big Day OutThe White Stripes at the Triple R Rooftop in 2002, and more.

The setlist of Mercury Rev’s setlist at the Triple R Rooftop is: 

  1. ‘Holes’
  2. ‘Motion Pictures’ (Neil Young cover)
  3. ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’ (Bob Dylan cover)
  4. ‘Endlessly’
  5. ‘Opus 40’
  6. ‘Goddess on a Highway’