The Waterboys – Song of Wandering Aengus (W.B. Yeats)

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The Waterboys - Neptune Theater; Seattle, WA
The Waterboys – Neptune Theater; Seattle, WA

I was always aware of The Waterboys, even a fan of much of their music. I had however not been a believer of theirs: the sort willing to undertake heroic efforts to locate them every time they tour. The performance I saw at the Neptune Theater here in Seattle last Friday night changed that. The Seattle Times review of the show  accurately reported:

Scott’s signature gravelly tenor was in fine form and he seemed to truly relish revisiting the band’s vast back catalog. He hit on songs ranging from the band’s first single, “A Girl Called Johnny,” to “The Whole Of The Moon,” one of its most popular hits.

Scott also made sure to touch on plenty of tracks from “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats.” The Yeats epic “Song of Wandering Aengus,” deliberate at first, became a hard-driving rocker with a climactic guitar solo. “White Birds,” which Scott described as Yeats’ best love poem, also built slowly toward a cathartic end.

Half of the songs they played Friday night could be described that way: “building slowly toward a cathartic end.” This music is bred in the bone for Steve Wickham and no other could render it so richly, but NY session guitarist Jay Barclay brought a beefy rock sound with real thematic comprehension. Mike Scott is not the most animated stage performer you’ll ever see, but as with Bob Dylan you find plenty of terrain in his voice alone.

Of which theme none other than a Yeats masterpiece, from Mike Scott’s recent ‘An Appointment With Mr. Yeats,’ a collection of the poet’s works set to music.

Song of Wandering Aengus

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

– William Butler Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds. 1899

Here’s a recording from Town Hall New York, recorded 3/20/13. The arrangement is the same as the one I saw here in Seattle at the Neptune Theater, though far more fully developed in virtuoso bombast this late in the tour. If ever a recording of the Seattle show surfaces I’ll post our version for comparison.

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