False alarm but no other surprises as Waterboys continue winning form

Waterboys frontman Mike Scott.
Waterboys frontman Mike Scott.

Live review: The Waterboys at the Sage Gateshead

“People should expect the unexpected from the Waterboys,” said the band’s frontman, Mike Scott, in his blurb for Saturday’s show on the venue’s website.

He was right too, unless any of the 1,700 or so fans there to see the band’s first Gateshead show since 2012 had the foresight to anticipate a false fire alarm halfway through their two-hour set.

That took up 20 minutes of the evening by the time a capacity crowd of late middle age and upwards had trudged out of the riverside auditorium and shuffled back in, but that was the sole false note of the night.

That was the only unexpected occurrence of the evening, but Waterboys fans’ expectations being routinely high, that’s no bad thing.

The band have always been a compelling proposition live, and their current line-up – featuring Steve Wickham on fiddle, Ralph Salmins on drums, Zach Ernst on guitar, David Hood on bass and Paul Brown on keyboards – might well be the best in their 32-year history.

Scott, 56, was in as fine form as ever, equally at home behind a keyboard or knocking out impassioned guitar solos in the manner of a Scottish Neil Young.

As was to be expected, the band’s latest album, Modern Blues, a No 14 hit following its release in January, their highest chart placing for over quarter of a century, was given a good showing, kicking off with a cracking rendition of LP opener Destinies Entwined to get proceedings under way.

Still a Freak, Rosalind (You married the wrong guy) and Nearest Thing to Hip were also featured in the set, though sadly November Tale and Beautiful Now weren’t.

The highlight of the evening, however, was quite possibly the 10-minute-plus version of Long Strange Golden Road, the epic closing track from their new album, that rounded off their main set.

The encores that ensued also included a couple of gems in the form of their 1990 single How Long Will I Love You?, a No 3 hit for Ellie Goulding a couple of years ago, and a double-keyboard-led version of Fisherman’s Blues, a No 32 hit in 1988.

The latter even sparked the first widespread outbreak of dancing of the night and got the bulk of the audience to its feet.

Among the other highlights of the night were a good-natured romp through the 1956 Chuck Berry classic Roll Over Beethoven, a spirited performance of Medicine Bow, from the 1985 album This is the Sea, and a rendition of their biggest hit, The Whole of the Moon, prefaced by an unremarkable anecdote about a London taxi driver.

No alarms and no surprises might have been preferable, but great expectations being lived up to either side of an unwanted interruption made for an evening to remember.