Irish fiddler Steve Wickham played such a crucial role on the past two Waterboys albums that his failure to join the band at Lisner Auditorium Saturday night was a sharp disappointment. His absence tilted the Scottish band's folk-rock sound more toward the rock of its early albums than the folk of its later work. Nonetheless, singer-songwriter Mike Scott combined his craftsmanship with his craftiness to lead his quartet in a long, varied and satisfying show.
When he played piano, bodhran or acoustic guitar, Scott sang his more subtle, folkish numbers such as the pretty love song "How Long Will I Love You" or the heartbroken "The Thrill Is Gone." When he played electric guitar, he led the Waterboys through fast, foot-stomping rockers such as "Be My Enemy" or "Medicine Bow." In either case, he was pushed hard by Kenny Blevins, the great Louisiana drummer guesting on this tour, and his catchy melodies were fleshed out by original Waterboy Andrew Thistlethwaite, who played guitar, saxophone, mandolin, harmonica and organ over the course of the evening -- and played them all well. The most enjoyable surprise was a hard-rocking version of Bob Dylan's recent song "Everything Is Broken."
Opening the show were the Raindogs, a Rhode Island folk-rock quintet featuring the legendary Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham. Cunningham played well when he got the chance, but he and the ex-Red Rockers rhythm section were relegated to a supporting role behind singer-songwriter Mark Cutler, who proved a dull singer and a boring songwriter.