Gig review: Mercury Rev, Art School, Glasgow

SOMEHOW, Mercury Rev feel bigger than this. On a cold Glasgow Friday night, this compact and warmly atmospheric venue contained a sound from the band which would surely have felt at home in a much larger venue.

Mercury Rev
Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev | Rating: *** | Art School, Glasgow

Although they never went away, these days there’s the feeling of a comeback from the Buffalo, New York-founded sonic explorers. A going concern since the end of the 1980s, they enjoyed a brief but memorable flurry of crossover success around the turn of the millennium with the Deserter’s Songs and All is Dream albums.

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This year’s ninth studio record The Light in You overtly reaches for the sound of those albums, and the new songs played here amidst a 90-minute exploration of the best of their catalogue fitted in beautifully.

Only singer Jonathan Donohue and guitarist Sean ‘Grasshopper’ Mackowiak remain from the band’s founding line-up, but what they each bring rested at the heart of the full-band show. Donohue was the focal point, backlit from below so he often appeared as an imposing silhouette, arms gently, dramatically orchestrating the sound around him.

His voice was a high-pitched croon, a lovely, lullabyish instrument which exposed gorgeous depths of emotion on Deserter’s Songs highlights The Funny Bird and Holes; on the new album’s standout track Central Park East; and through an encore of Goddess On a Hiway and The Dark is Rising, possibly the most anthemic signature highlights of their career. Grasshopper’s guitar soared alongside the vocal and scratched its way through the extended outro of Opus 40, the two key players here still maintaining an alchemy which often hit upon the magical.