Twelve songs into a 15-song set, Waterboys leader Mike Scott turned to drummer Ralph Salmins and said, “OK Ralph, let’s nail this one to the wall.” With a kick-start they leapt into “Whole of the Moon,” and what had been a good night at the Paramount Theatre rose to another level.
Most of Thursday’s show, the first of a five-week North American tour, focused on “Modern Blues,” the Waterboys’ new album that came out earlier this week in the United States. It’s a terrific record, and as Scott led his five-piece crew through such instantly connecting tunes as “Destinies Entwined,” “The Girl Who Slept for Scotland” and “I Can See Elvis,” there was a sense that many of these new songs would become anticipated fan favorites in years to come.
But it’s hard to top songs that faithful followers have held dear for 30 years, and thus “Whole of the Moon” drew a special reception. The highlight of 1985’s “This Is the Sea” and probably Scott’s most recognizable tune, it brought some audience members to their feet immediately. Gradually, others were drawn toward the front of the stage like moths to a flame, and by the end of the song, everyone was out of their seats.
They stayed that way for the final three numbers, which included 1980s staples “Don’t Bang the Drum” and “Fisherman’s Blues” as well as the new album’s epic closer “Long Strange Golden Road.” That song’s 10-minutes-plus run time allowed ample opportunity for everyone in the band to shine, and what a band it is.
Scott and longtime fiddler Steve Wickham have rotated a lot of players through the Waterboys lineup over the decades, but they’ve hit upon something special with this crew, which gets a youthful spark from Austin guitarist Zach Ernst. The yin to Ernst’s yang at stage left is bassist David Hood, a legend of Muscle Shoals who played on many of the most recognizable albums in the annals of soul, R&B and rock.
Hood and drummer Salmins lock the rhythm down solid, allowing keyboardist Brother Paul Brown room to roam wild and free on Hammond organ. Brown’s stage presence is off the charts; even when battling through technical difficulties, keeping one hand on a microphone when its stand malfunctioned for a few bars at the start of one song, he was grinning ear to ear. His is the kind of smile that spreads cheer to everyone onstage and throughout the audience.
A bonus was the 30-minute opening set by Austin all-women quartet the Bluebonnets, who got the evening off to a righteously rocking start. Triple-threat frontwomen Dominique Davalos, Kathy Valentine and Eve Monsees took turns leading the way, with drummer Christina Comley a thundering presence behind them.