When great work is created in spite of the distress and depression that shrouded that period, is it the fascination of having been able to succeed against the odds that preserves the attraction to it? The abyssal lows Mercury Rev suffered after the spectacular failure of 1995's 'See You On The Other Side'- and then the flickering lights of hope that were sought in writing the songs that formed their 1998 classic 'Deserter's Songs'- are indeed the crux of tonight's performance in collaboration with the local Tilburg Conservatorium Orchestra. The band have dealt heavily with orchestration since the mid 90s, so while on the surface there may seem nothing particularly novel about this pairing, frontman Jonathan Donahue explains that the band have actually been waiting a long time to be given the chance to perform in this way. Launching somewhat bizarrely into Neil Young's 'A Man Needs a Maid' but followed up rapidly and assuredly by new album cut 'The Queen Of Swans', the set then continues to sway between originals and covers, context for which are given throughout via resolutely sincere and heartfelt monologues by Donahue, some of which rendering me rather damp-eyed on more than one occasion.
The band and orchestra visit, among many things, the rural Catskill mountains and fairytales of Donahue's childhood, his tenure as guitarist for The Flaming Lips (complete with a stunning cover of 'Love Yer Brain'), and being informed of the death of his friend Marc Linkous, better known as singer-songwriter Sparklehorse (followed similarly with a bracing cover of 'Sea of Teeth'). The glowing musical highlight here though is 'Holes', the synthetic orchestration of the recording transformed into a beautiful dynamic counterpoint by the Conservatorium Orchestra, a feat they achieve several times throughout the evening, Donahue adamant that to simply use the orchestra as a token "volume knob" would be a severe disservice. Donahue prefaces the song by recalling the band's severe lows at the time of writing, but also explains how it marked the beginning of being dragged out of the dirt and into the light, both band and orchestra then flourishing to provide one of the most outstanding and emotional performances of the festival.
William Doyle, The Quietus
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