POP MUSIC REVIEW : Mike Scott Flashes Signs of Greatness

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

The Waterboys' Mike Scott demonstrated Monday night at the Wiltern Theatre that he is a wary but immensely worthy rock hero.

In his first local appearance in four years, the Scottish-born singer-songwriter came armed with inspiring songs and uplifting musicianship, but early in the show, he and the other six members of his band self-defeatingly broke the momentum.

Yet Scott showed in the end that he has the conviction, purpose and talent to put him near the forefront of contemporary rockers. The most significant aspect of the concert was that Scott seems comfortable in that role. It wasn't always the case.

When Scott burst on the scene in England in 1983, he seemed too eager to be accepted as the latest in the rock-as-inspiration tradition of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. By the time of the third Waterboys album, 1985's "This Is the Sea," Scott had moved toward warmer and more convincing expressions of spiritually accented idealism and hope, and he stood on the brink of U2-like adoration in England.

But Scott backed away for some soul-searching, eventually moving from London to Ireland, where he put together a new band that enabled him to work with the bright, flavorful Irish folk trimmings. The result was 1988's much-admired "Fisherman's Blues" album, which had a far more personal tone that better served his reflections on the search for social and spiritual fulfillment.

Monday's show at the Wiltern--where Scott will appear again tonight and Wednesday, before a concert Thursday at UC San Diego--was an extension of that breakthrough.

"We're livin' in a strange time / Workin' for a strange goal / We're turnin' flesh and body / into soul," he sang in the evening's second number, "Strange Boat," virtually defining his musical destination. But at times the Celtic coloring (provided by such instruments as accordion, mandolin and fiddle) neutralized the emotions of the songs, and the use of traditional numbers broke the momentum of the Waterboys' own punchy songs.

At about the half-way mark, however, Scott picked up an electric guitar and went into a series of explosive rockers that had the audience on its feet, fully engrossed. By this time, the mixture of folk warmth and rock bite was so unified that it seemed only natural when Scott brought out the nearly two dozen members of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles for a jam that offered the warm, communal feel that is such a winning feature of Los Lobos concerts.

Scott needs a few more songs of the level of the "Fisherman's Blues" material before he can be reasonably ranked with the models he so much admires, but he flashed signs of greatness on Monday.

A complete review of the Waterboys' concert will appear in Wednesday's Calendar section.

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