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The recent shows from The War On Drugs – transcendent rock’n’roll in an age where those are almost dirty, and certainly pitied, words – put me in mind of another band which worked similar responses, albeit with different style, and different drugs.

This review was the second of two Mercury Rev gigs, two years apart, which reinforced the idea that giving yourself over to a live show could reward you ten-fold.


Enmore Theatre, March 8, 2002 Why do we go to see live music?

There's snuffling, chattering people behind you, alcohol-dependent and weak-bladdered fools shuffling by you every five minutes and too much smoke, sweat and flesh.

Given the pre-recorded, pre-digested nature of many contemporary live shows we could do worse than stay at home, turn the lights down and the sound up, right?

Why do we go? Because of nights like this. This was 90 of the most pulsating, vibrating, joyous, moving minutes I've had at a gig. Grand (majestic even) and yet personal, childlike at times but overwhelmingly mature and adult in its scope, it had just about everything you could want in a show.

The air was charged, filled with twin keyboards laying down a bed, a guitar criss-crossing and a bass tweaked to get you inside - not with volume or force but because it was calibrated exactly for your emotional centre.

The mixture was part Neil Young, part Pink Floyd, part prog, part bubblegum, part rustic folk and part loud, strong rock and roll. It was dense but every detail was apparent, even the waif-like voice of Jonathan Donohue that harbours no pretensions about its fragility but has all the unfettered life of a bouncing kitten.

Unlike their equally stunning last show here two and half years ago, there was more discernible joy in both the songs and, particularly, Donohue, this time.

His showmanship was almost camp at times but it was so intermingled in the pleasure he was feeling standing between the music and an audience so clearly wrapped up in the same journey that it felt perfectly natural. The thing is, Mercury Rev create another space inside and outside your head.

If at the Chemical Brothers a few days earlier I'd been wishing I was on whatever those around me were on, at Mercury Rev I could have sworn I already was.

I spent much of the gig with my eyes closed as the images evoked were happening on the inside of my eyeballs: swirling fog; flashes of lightning; dappled sunlight turning into the reflective glare of sun on water; cascading boulders.

But I didn't feel disconnected from the stage at all.

The hairs on my arm seemed to register every downbeat on the drums like breaths of wind, my head rocked back with every guitar pattern and, crucially, the build-up of emotion in me was only released when they let themselves go.


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