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Review: Mercury Rev, at Barbican

Accompanied by the Royal Northern Sinfonia and the Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde, an enchanting night with US psych-pop band doesn’t disappoint

20 July, 2017 — By Allan Ledward

Mercury Rev at the Barbican

BRINGING their psych-pop from the Catskill Mountains to the concrete jungle of the Barbican, Mercury Rev’s show on Friday night was like a walk through an enchanted wood.

Accompanied by the orchestral wizardry of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the magical bells, tinkles and strings gave a vivid extra dimension to the powers of frontman Jonathan Donahue and Sean “Grasshopper” Mackowiak.

After success in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the pair reappeared with the same feral charm in 2015 on album The Light in You. This intimate performance gave them the chance to showcase their newish material, while reimagining older tracks.

With the Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde on guitar, Racing The Tide was called on from their early days, while other highlights included Holes and Tonite It Shows, both from the classic 1998 album Deserter’s Songs. Opus 40 was a rare concession to upbeat catchiness.

Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue and Sean ‘Grasshopper’ Mackowiak

After their version of Wish Upon A Star, the stellar theme was reprised on The Dark Is Rising, from 2002 album All Is Dream. This was always going to be the melodramatic climax to the evening, and it didn’t disappoint.

We make “childhood” music, said Donahue, turning the night into full-blown regression for a middle-aged audience.

All this celestial intensity and innocent wonder could have spilled over into nausea, but Mercury Rev know how to craft a moment without stooping to sugary, Elbow-style singalong.

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