Meltdown: Mercury Rev, Royal Festival Hall, London

Masterfully constructed, the show astonishes because the band can continually scale new peaks

The affinity that this year's Meltdown curator David Bowie feels for Jonathan Donahue's sonic adventurers, isn't hard to understand. It's not just that Mercury Rev have worked with longtime Bowie associate, arranger/producer Tony Visconti, though the connection surely helped when it came to booking them for this evening's performance. As the most celebrated rock'n'roll chameleon of the past 30 years, Bowie must have swooned when he saw how Donahue transforms his character over the course of a performance, without so much as a costume change or a lick of greasepaint.

Bowie has been criticised for his over-cautious choice of acts for Meltdown, and it's true that tonight's set offers no material not heard on last year's Mercury Rev shows. But, centred on the towering Rev "comeback" albums, Deserter's Songs and All is Dream, it is a performance that shows the group are more keenly attuned than they've ever been to the resonances of dreamy yearning, occult dread and swooning wonder that course through their songs.

Shrouded in dry ice, Donahue cuts a wraithlike figure, his presence engendering a quasi-religious fervour from the enraptured audience. Eight years ago, his band was almost finished, collapsing under the combined strain of drug problems, declining sales and mounting debts. But, songs such as "Goddess on a Hiway" and "Tides of the Moon" provide shining examples of rock's recuperative potential. Constantly smiling between songs, Donahue wears the look of a man genuinely gratified to have a second chance, and determined to make full use of it.

The astonishing music allows him to emerge as a charismatic front man with an acute understanding of rock as ritualised spectacle. Either side of the stage, a keyboard player and a synthesiser player open up grand vistas and deep chasms, musical wonderlands that range from Disney- style fantasy to Dante-esque horror. The ever-shaded guitarist, Grasshopper unleashes blood-and-fire salvos, while Donahue's reedy falsetto conjures resilience and purity out of transfixing psychodramas.

Psychedelia is a much-abused term, but Donahue's explorations of the subconscious and far-flung flights of the imagination make the Rev the most potent exponents of the genre still extant. Masterfully constructed, the show astonishes because the band can continually scale new peaks. "Goddess on a Hiway" is like a Chuck Berry car-driving song as remodelled by Philip K Dick, stretching out into a sensurround rhapsody. "Opus 40" glories in subterranean explosions and wired-to-the-moon pyrotechnics, Donahue crouched down, tearing several shades of destruction from his guitar, while the predatory bass, drums and keyboards hover as if waiting for the kill.

During a segue into Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime", the thought occurs that, after such glory, they might find themselves wondering what they will do to top it. An unscheduled, but curiously flat, encore of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" confirms that it will soon be time for them to go away and dream it all up again. A formidable task, but if any band can do it, Mercury Rev can.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice