The Waterboys -- Celtic rockers or Holiday Inn lounge lizards?
With the Raindogs.
Orpheum Theater, Nov. 13, 8 pm.
By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON
WHEN I FIRST STARTED listening to the Waterboys, I was convinced that lead singer Mike Scott was the reincarnation of Bob Dylan -- the Dylan who wrote songs like "Tangled Up in Blue" instead of "Lay, Lady, Lay." I was enthralled by the Waterboys' spirituality and passion, and when I finally saw them perform last year, the event was more like a religious experience than a concert.
Then I saw them perform on Tuesday.
The band that had so impressed me with the sincerity of their emotion and the raw power of their lyrics had suddenly been transformed into Holiday Inn lounge lizards, a sort of Celtic Murph and the Magictones. Where last year Scott would have pounded out lively ballads like "And a Bang on the Ear," now he tinkles away on the piano with sappy, sweet love songs. And after I finished choking on one particularly bad one, the band flashed a giant pink heart on the video screen behind them.
They've never been boring before, I thought, but there they were, boring as an 8.01 lecture and twice as long. I've been more bored before, though. (Ever try sitting through a New Order concert?) What was so appalling about this kind of boredom was that I knew the band was capable of playing with furious intensity, but instead they were settling for Barry Manilow lyrics and two-finger piano.
Mercifully, there were some energetic interludes in between the boredom. It probably says something about the new album, Room to Roam, that the evening's most successful songs were the older ones. The concert didn't even get going until the band started "Whole of the Moon," from their third album, This is the Sea. Two others, "All the Things She Gave Me" and "Medicine Bow," revealed the band's old spirit; their energy was focused, and they gave "Medicine Bow" a feral, punkish edge.
Still, the selections from Room to Roam weren't all bad. The title song, which reads like a poem, was gentle, with an appropriate video accompaniment of puffy, drifting clouds. "Life of Sundays," the current single, is full of the Waterboys' original vitality. When Scott sings "Here we are again/Two old lovers/Two old friends," you can hear genuine wistfulness in his voice. In a way, the song is a companion to "When You Go Away," the poignant piece from Fisherman's Blues that the band also performed on Tuesday.
The highlights of the evening, though, were not the originals but the covers. The Waterboys' metal crunch on "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" was, simply put, great. And I was more than grateful when they showed a return to their real roots -- Bob Dylan -- by playing a chugging, bluesy "Everything is Broken."
Like the Waterboys, Boston's Raindogs often play fast, hearty rock 'n' roll. They acquired a Celtic flavor on their major-label debut, Lost Souls, but even their talented fiddler/mandolinist couldn't save them from being unredeemingly bland. Songs like "I'm Not Scared" and "May Your Heart Keep Beating" show that the Raindogs have the right idea when it comes to hard-edged guitar rock, but they have a long way to go before they'll be real attention-grabbers.