The Waterboys were on fire.
The Scottish rock band, which got its start 30 years ago, opened its show Tuesday at the lovely Sunset Center in Carmel with a simmering version of "Strange Boat" and then proceeded to turn up the heat as the night progressed.
Vocalist Mike Scott was in fine form, slinging his lyrics with a mix of poise and passion. His fellow Waterboys -- especially sensational fiddle player Steve Wickham and electrifying guitarist Jay Barclay -- were just as strong, conjuring up the band's signature blend of Celtic folk and rock 'n' roll that has often been imitated but rarely equaled.
It was the kind of night that underscored all the reasons why so many once predicted that the Waterboys would be "the Next U2."
Of course, that didn't actually end up happening. The Waterboys would fall well short of U2's commercial success, yet the band did create a handful of records — such as 1985's "This Is the Sea" and 1988's "Fisherman's Blues" — that stack up quite nicely to Bono's best.
The group arrived at the Carmel venue after performing on Sunday at the Great American Music Hall. (Scott and Wickham also played a duo set on Sunday at the huge Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park.) Suffice it to say that the musicians were impressed with what they saw.
"Nice place you have here -- a really beautiful theater," Scott said to the crowd after finishing up "A Girl Called Johnny," one of the best tracks from the band's self-titled 1983 debut.
The Waterboys did a good job mixing up the 19-song set list, drawing heavily from the classic albums and sprinkling in a few selections from the group's most recent offering, "An Appointment with Mr. Yeats," a work based on the poetry of the great W.B. Yeats.
The music ranged from roughed-up rockers, such as "Don't Bang the Drum" and "The Whole of the Moon," to sweet folk-drenched numbers, like "How Long Will I Love You?" and "When Ye Go Away."
The Waterboys' legacy hasn't weathered the years all that well. But the band's music sure has. If you're not familiar with this great group, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of "The Best of The Waterboys 81—90," which serves as a great introduction to what Mike Scott and his pals have to offer.
The show also featured a great opening act -- Freddie Stevenson, who immediately catapulted up my "watch list" of new singer-songwriters. His voice reminds me of Pink Floyd's Roger Waters (high praise in my book) and he writes curious, catchy tunes that demand further inspection.
I plan to give Stevenson's music more attention. And I suggest you do as well. A good place to start is at www.freddiestevenson.net.
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