The Waterboys @ The Birchmere - 4/21/15

A new Waterboys album comes infrequently enough that when it does, it feels like something to celebrate. Despite a career going on 32 years, the band released only their 11th studio album, Modern Blues, at the beginning of this month. The album is a bit of a change of pace for the band – the only time they’ve rocked so hard previously was on 2000’s A Rock in a Weary Land, and in many ways this new album feels like a spiritual successor to that one. The driving guitar and soaring electric organ at the opening of “Destinies Entwined” sets the tone for the album, and also served to introduce the Waterboys of 2015 to a packed, standing-room-only house at The Birchmere’s flex stage last Tuesday night. The Waterboys have always had a rotating lineup – for this tour, bandleader Mike Scott and long-time violinist Steve Wickham were joined by several of the musicians behind the album, guitarist Zach Ernst, bassist David Hood, keyboardist Brother Paul (Paul Brown), and drummer Ralph Salmins.

The Waterboys Steve Wickham digging in at The Birchmere - 4.21.15 (Photo by Matt Condon)

The Waterboys Steve Wickham digging in at The Birchmere - 4.21.15 (Photo by Matt Condon)

When the band last came to the area, playing at the 9:30 Club in 2013, they were touring for the 25th anniversary of their biggest album, 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues. As an anniversary show, that one felt largely nostalgic, despite several more recent songs (including two songs which didn’t get released until this latest album a year and a half later) sprinkled throughout the setlist. Very little was nostalgic this time around though, as the band played a full half of the show from the new album, including such new tracks as “Still A Freak,” “I Can See Elvis,” and “Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy).” Despite the album having only been out for a few weeks, many in attendance seemed familiar with the new songs already. For those who hadn’t had time to catch up yet, though, there were also a number of classic tracks in the mix, including “We Will Not Be Lovers,” “The Whole of the Moon,” and “Don’t Bang the Drum.” The mix of tracks maintained just the right balance between the new and the well-known material, making for a great evening of music.

The audience, unfortunately, was less pleasant – sometimes to the point of downright rude. At one point during “Song of the Wandering Aengus” (from 2011’s An Appointment With Mr. Yeats), it got so bad that Scott stopped the band a minute into the song to address the disrespect being shown to them – “Would you like us to play quieter so you can hear yourselves talking better?” The question was met with cheers, but the loud conversations continued as the band played on. The shorter set than other cities got (14 songs in Alexandria, compared to 17 in both Philadelphia suburb Glenside, PA and NYC) may have been the result. Seriously DC, we can (and should) do better.

Woodstock, NY-based rocker Connor Kennedy and his band Minstrel opened the show.

All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.