Mike Scott / The Garage, London

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The Independent Culture
OK, so the Garage isn't Madison Square Gardens, but the fact that Mike Scott can sell out five nights there is testament to his enduring popularity. When asked recently why he had called his forthcoming album Still Burning, he simply replied: "Because I am." Tonight's performance, which saw a rejuvenated Scott playing with an electric band for the first time since The Waterboys packed out a circus tent at Highbury Fields in 1990, proved this was no empty boast.

Looking a bit keener and leaner, and sporting some sideburns that Gaz Coombes would be proud of, Scott bows regally before striking up the opening chords of "Questions". Like much of the new album, the song is rich in grand metaphor and confirms that Scott's spiritual quest is still on-going. Some critics seem to find his meditations on higher things easier to digest when he has an electric, rather than an acoustic guitar in his hands. Tonight's set would have thrilled them. MTV Unplugged it wasn't.

It's "Dark Man of My Dreams" that really sets the tone. Scott's unhinged and incendiary lead-guitar solo proves he's still in touch with his more base instincts and, like all great performers, he seems to take a certain amount of narcissistic pleasure in his own sexiness as he throws shapes with his Les Paul. His new backing band are superb. Ian McNabb - himself a singer and guitarist of some repute - is moonlighting on bass, and on "Glastonbury Song", his backing vocals are a welcome addition. Elsewhere, the keyboard player James Hallawell's off-the-wall piano solo on "Edinburgh Castle" seems to draw inspiration from Bowie's "Aladdin Sane", and is equally impressive.

About mid-way through, we're starting to wonder when the pace will slow and Scott will dip into his collection of folk-ballads. It doesn't happen. Amazingly, he shifts up a gear instead, delivering a truly apocalyptic version of "Be My Enemy" in which his half-scatted vocal sounds as fresh as the day it was first recorded. Then, just when it seems Scott can do no wrong, the first and only sonic glitch of the evening occurs. It's not that the forthcoming single "Love Anyway" is weak - far from it. The problem is that the soaring strings that are integral to the song's magic on CD are missing live and, at six minutes 42 seconds, the journey is just too long without them.

Mike Scott is still a focused live performer, and the quality of his forthcoming album confirms his song-writing is as strong and perspicacious as ever. Now all he has to do is get those brass and string sections up on stage.

James McNair