Mike Scott never does what you expect him to. Sure, that mythical box most place him in keeps the leader of The Waterboys in the back of the zeitgeist’s mind as the strange Scot with the Irish fixation. But that’s too easy.

Here’s a living and breathing artist. One who stalks the stage like a shark hunting for its next meal.

Songs are like food to Mike Scott. He needs them. And it was with that in mind that he brought The Waterboys (with the always excellent Steve Wickham on violin/electric fiddle but with more ex-members now than The Fall) back to the Phil this weekend.

The venue works wonders for the group’s sound, but its seating can leave the atmosphere a little flat. The Waterboys put their foot down as good as anyone and the opening and closing electric guitar salvos of Rags and Don’t Bang The Drum would feel (if not sound) so much better in a sweaty rock ‘n’ roll venue.

He doesn’t do the obvious things though: opening the gig with a first half of Waterboys classics and then playing the new stuff (words by WB Yeats, music by Scott) is a refreshing change to how said modern phenomenon usually works. We need not have worried though.

The music was great from start to finish. Lots of love songs (The Thrill Is Gone, A Girl Called Johnny, How Long Will I Love You) with tempos going up and down bathed the Phil in a warm glow, in between blasts of social observation from the likes of Politics and September, 1913 (both could have been written yesterday and not nearly 100 years ago).

Guitars raged, drums pounded and keyboard and fiddle flourishes lit up the night. More gentle tunes, like the lapping shores of White Birds, brought the old hall to a hushed appreciation, but it was the rockers that brought the sold-out crowd to their feet and into the aisles for some Saturday night fever.

The gorgeous A Man Is In Love was another highlight, while The Whole Of The Moon was an obvious encore that the audience seemed to enjoy more than the artist. No matter, as he came back on to deliver a definitive Fisherman’s Blues and sent everyone, and possibly himself, home happy.

A satisfied artist? Never. Keep stalking those waters for prey, Mike…

– Alan O’Hare