Psychedelic pop hasn't been
the dominant sound in popular music since the vaunted Summer of Love in
1967, but it has continued to evolve for the last four decades, and it's
still responsible for some of the most inventive rock -- sounds that keep
your feet moving on the ground as they encourage your imagination to roam
Upstate New York's Mercury Rev and Manchester, England's, Doves form one of
the most inspired psychedelic-pop pairings in quite some time. And though
each band approaches its swirling, atmospheric sounds from different
directions -- as can be expected in a genre where the first rule is "no
rules" -- their sold-out show at the Vic Theatre on Friday night showed that
they share a similar philosophy.
Mercury Rev is touring
behind "The Secret Migration," the sixth album in a career that stretches
back to the mid-'80s -- though the only constants have been singer and
songwriter Jonathan Donahue and his faithful sidekick, guitarist
Grasshopper, aka Sean Mackiowiak. The group started as a chaotic psychedelic
punk band in the style of the early Flaming Lips -- a group Donahue joined
for two albums in the early '90s.
Mercury Rev's finest
moment remains 1998's "Deserter's Songs," when it took a dramatic turn
toward lushly orchestrated folk-rock, similar to the Flaming Lips on "The
Soft Bulletin." But Wayne Coyne was always a better performer: Donahue spent
far too much time on stage staring at his shoes.
"The Secret Migration"
introduces a new, sunnier Donahue, happily crooning ecological anthems and
strange cartoonish pop ditties such as "Arise" and "Diamonds," while the
current tour finds him transformed, like the butterfly on the album's cover,
into a much more animated, enthusiastic and fun presence.
During an hourlong set,
Donahue cheerfully conducted his five-piece band as it powered through wave
after wave of dramatic crescendos while the video screen flashed enigmatic
images that wouldn't have seemed out of place at a '60s acid test,
interspersed with a string of inspirational slogans from such diverse
philosophers as Henry Miller and Frank-N-Furter of the "The Rocky Horror
Donahue is in a
spiritual state of mind these days -- some of the videos evoked "Jonathan
Livingstone Seagull," and the group covered Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve
Somebody" -- but it's working for him. The formerly dour bandleader not only
encouraged the crowd to cheer, he actually smiled.
The comparison is one
that both artists are tired of, but the new Donahue brings to mind the gonzo
ringleader that Coyne has become. Yet with bass, guitar, keyboards and live
drums driving Mercury Rev instead of the digital backing tracks that power
the Flaming Lips, there's enough of a distinction, thanks to the relentless
crunch, to set the band apart.
Doves are also
supporting a fine new disc, "Some Cities," which has spawned the
Motown-flavored Britpop hit, "Black and White Town." The band's third album
is a much catchier and more groove-oriented affair than its earlier efforts,
but fans of interstellar overdrive needn't fret.
During its 90-minute
performance, Doves still honed to their Pink Floyd-meets-the-"Madchester"-rave-scene
formula, with the potent dance grooves decorated by layers of trippy guitar
and echoed vocals. Bassist and vocalist Jimi Goodwin was in fine voice,
despite the fact that this was his first gig in five weeks, after a serious
throat ailment forced Doves to cancel the first leg of their conquering U.S.
haven't learned the lesson Mercury Rev finally heeded. With the exception of
Goodwin, who was amiable but hardly energetic, the group remains a bunch of
shoe-gazers. Nor did the quartet vary its mix enough to avoid sounding
repetitive: The new tunes from "Some Cities" are mean and lean on album, but
morphed into samey-sounding space funk onstage.
These problems made
Mercury Rev the night's highlight. But for fans of psychedelic pop, both
bands are well worth tuning in and turning up.