"Follow your bliss." Amid clips of swimming sea creatures, twirling dancers and flying birds, mythologist Joseph Campbell's saying was one of several inspirational quotes projected behind Mercury Rev at the Trocadero Theater on Saturday night.
It could be the band's mantra. Momentous, thunderous songs teem with transcendental images of natural beauty, dreams and, in the words of one of them, "Senses on Fire." The 90-minute set was an often-blissful sensory overload.
Singer Jonathan Donahue spent a brief stint in the Flaming Lips and, like that band, Mercury Rev melds psychedelic experimentation, placid beauty and pummeling power into an open-hearted and wondrous experience. Donahue, guitarist Grasshopper (Sean Mackowiack) and keyboardist Jeff Mercel (plus a changing rhythm section) have been evolving since the late 1980s, but their set drew from the second half of their career, from 1998's magnificent
to this year's pastoral, electronic-tinged
Mercury Rev songs ebb and flow. Passages of simple prettiness - a few piano chords and reverberating guitar lines backing Donahue's boyish voice - cede to crashing, thrilling climaxes of galloping tom drums, keening feedback and glaring strobe lights. Granted, after awhile the strobes annoyed more than they thrilled and a few songs seemed revved up but hollow, but the airy and exploding "Diamonds" and the spacey, mutating "Opus 40" certainly fulfilled their epic ambitions.
Donahue is a gleeful and dramatic front man. Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, whose set preceded Mercury Rev's, were the opposite. The former Luna members sang their mid-tempo ballads calmly and sleepily, though things perked up when they revisited Wareham's youthful days in Galaxie 500 with "Snowstorm" and a great cover of New Order's "Ceremony."
Philly's Like a Fox opened the show with a raucous half-hour of garage-psych that drew mainly from the excellent new album,
Where's My Golden Gun?