Mercury Rev – The Rescue Rooms, November 2004

“You should be allowed to do something that isn’t contrived and machine-like every night,” stated Jonathon Donahue. “We could practise for 50 hours a day and it would come out sounding consistent, which is another word for average, which is another word for shitty.” Spoken in 1991, the words of Mercury Rev’s ethereal singer articulate an ethic that has propelled the band through twisting, nebulous corridors of perception for the last 13 years.

Labelled as both experimental genius and inaccessible noise, the band’s early releases drew comparisons with a Barrett-induced Pink Floyd. Apparently free from the biting teeth of time, Mercury Rev wandered the white-noise-darkness of space, spontaneously plucking moments and melting them into sound-scaped caverns. Throughout this tumultuous journey, promiscuous whispers hinted at chaotic lifestyles and soon after the recording of See You On The Other Side in 1995, two of Mercury Rev’s founding members waved goodbye.

By this point Dave Fridmann had quit touring to concentrate on sound engineering and production. A move that seemed to add space and timing to the band’s approach. The freeform symphonies erupting in the minds of Donahue and Grasshopper were transformed into the mesmeric Deserter’s Songs. It astonished critics and fans, equally floored and seduced by the follow-up album in 2001, All Is Dream.

Tonight it shows. The stardust vocals in the opening Little Rhymes float on a low-frequency wave that washes at the mind’s outer shores. “Time, is all mine,” cries Donahue. I slide and drift through the song’s moonlit introspection, gloriously caught in the moments of time that Mercury Rev have happened upon and crafted. Moments that puncture reality with such force that I begin to believe all is dream.

In the past, the band’s mistrust of consistency has been reflected in their live performances, adding to the mystery and intrigue that has often shrouded them. But in the Rescue Rooms, Mercury Rev’s sound is faithful to the orchestrated layers that lift the simple and haunting melodies on their last two albums. Guitars, strings and harmonies rise and fall as rolling rhythms swell. We sail into the beautiful currents of Holes, Opus 40, Goddess On A Highway and Spiders And Flies. Material from the forthcoming The Secret Migration slips seamlessly into these familiar waters. And I feel slightly lost.

It is rumoured that, when asked about the sonic merits of post-Dark Side Of The Moon releases, Roger Waters quipped, “it’s hard to move forward once you’ve reached perfection.” Like Pink Floyd, Mercury Rev have never been free of time. They’ve used it to explore ways of creating sounds that are all encompassing. And tonight it still shows. Perhaps perfection is only limited by the consistency of imagination; judging by the timeless imagery Mercury Rev are capable of invoking they’ll never reach consistency. As they get nearer it just becomes a little less surprising.


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