Mercury Rev at the Fox Theatre

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Mercury Rev amd the Duke Spirit
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Fox Theatre, Boulder
Better Than:
The last unbelievably great Mercury Rev show at The Fox.

It probably would have been wiser to stay home on a night like this and not risk the icy streets and highways between Denver and Boulder just to see a rock band. But some rock bands go beyond just getting up on stage in their jeans and rocking out a little. Some bands command and deserve some daring on your part and that's why I couldn't pass on seeing Mercury Rev.

Upon entering the Fox, I could hear the opening band, the Duke Spirit (pictured above), warming up the stage in good spirits. A six-piece from London, the outfit performed a seamless combination of blues, soul, spacey freakouts and rock and roll. Frontwoman Liela Moss cut a commanding figure, moving dramatically and furiously with the music, like a grittier Deborah Harry. The group's energy and enthusiasm elevated its already admirable material to new heights. With little between-song stage banter and preamble, the Duke Spirit kicked out the rock with a spirited verve, especially on songs like "You Really Wake Up the Love in Me," from its 2008 sophomore effort, Neptune.

Mercury Rev's set opened like we were opening a grand, interactive time capsule to the early 21st century from centuries forward. Ethereal, uplifting music flooded the room and images of favorite albums and works of literature flashed across the screen, interspersed with black and white images of animals and people, including the band. All five members walked out soon enough and launched into "Snowflake in a Hot World." Immediately, the audience was engulfed in a dazzling swirl of sounds and uplifting emotions. Clearly the band has long figured out how to make its shows not merely a performance but an experience designed to move and inspire. Jonathan Donohue's paradoxically playful and reverent gestures and motions were obviously practiced but felt as though he had designed this particular performance especially for us.

I'd seen the band perform "Holes" and "Lorelei" on previous occasions, but it seemed so much more larger than life this time around. Banks of lights arranged to give sunlight bursts and streaming textures bathed the performers in shifting patterns and hues all within the same song. It gave the whole show a level of dramatic impact I have rarely seen. The explosions of light and sound felt like being thrust into a higher state of consciousness during the course of the performance. Toward the end, Rev performed a completely transformed, epic, mind-bending, almost unrecognizable cover of "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. The set, including the 3-song encore, closed, appropriately enough, with "Senses on Fire." I don't know what everyone else thought of the show, but I felt like I had just witnessed something holy and transcendent, which is what like music should more often be.

-- Tom Murphy

Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias:
Mercury Rev shows are something of a religious experience for me.
Random Detail: Rev's bass player was left-handed.
By the Way: There was a 180 gram vinyl version of a double album including Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor together for sale at the show.

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