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.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot