Mercury Rev w/ Wilco
Moore Theater, Wed Nov 28, $25/$27.

Flu season sucks. It's miserable, inescapable, and here in Seattle, it invariably arrives a week or two before the ladies with the white cardigans and nasty syringes set up preventative shop at your neighborhood supermarket. However, fever dreams are a sublime consolation, especially when you've got the day off from work and a copy of Mercury Rev's latest release, All Is Dream, spinning in your stereo.

Truly, there is no greater salvation from the chills, aches, and coughs of the autumn plague than crazy hallucinations, floating sensations, and ridiculous conversations with people who aren't really there. You're not insane--just dog sick, and having what little fun you can as time passes in waves. Mercury Rev takes orchestral pop and stretches it out to languid, voluptuous limits, and any of the band's five albums readily suit a virally (or chemically) altered mind.

Over the course of a decade, this Buffalo, NY group has developed a cult-like popularity among fans of like-minded acts such as Flaming Lips and Sean O'Hagan's High Llamas (leaders Jonathan Donahue and Dave Fridman collaborated with Flaming Lips on Hit to Death in the Future Head; Fridman co-produced and played on Mogwai's Come On Die Young and Rock Action, and Sparklehorse's spellbinding new album, It's a Wonderful Life).

Deserter's Songs, from 1998, features warped saws and theramin, amid abundant orchestration that is heavily laden with horns and rapturous strings. The album culminates in a storming, psychedelic, house-influenced roar ("Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp") that is as astonishing as it is electrifying. All Is Dream is perhaps less grand, and not as overtly sprawling, but it's certainly no less narcotic in tone. This time around Donahue's lyrics are more personal, and it's almost as if something's being worked out here. These are distorted love songs, flushed fever dreams--themes are exaggerated and scenes are played out in explicit wishful hindsight.

A female character appears in varying shapes and constantly haunts the imagery: "Tides of the Moon" finds her unprotected and directionless ("The threads that run through your life/Hang from your sleeve/Wind through your soul/The kind you can't control/But wish you could break"). Later, in "A Drop in Time," she's glib and unstable ("Her words profane, her mouth divine/I tried to sympathize with both sides/But I was caught, like a floating thought/Stuck inside of Leonard Cohen's mind").

Things get spooky, almost spiritual at times, as on "Nite and Fog," where melancholic strings reach toward the heavens and Donahue appears to be searching his soul for guidance ("If God moves across the water/Then the girl moves in other ways/And I'm losing sight of either").

All Is Dream is guitar-driven psychedelia rife with romanticism, making this Mercury Rev's most vulnerable-sounding record to date. It was to be produced by legendary '60s arranger Jack Nitzsche, who unfortunately died shortly before recording began. Nonetheless, his influence is evident, and the album is a fine tribute to the master's artistic contribution.

Live, Mercury Rev's prog tendencies become more pronounced, but the band's pop heart beats brightest. This is a group that, despite its penchant for the theatrical and sweeping, still comes across as approachable, and about as close to unpretentious as possible for makers of music this splashy and showy. Donahue seems to be having a fine time up there, sometimes brandishing his saw above his head with a great maniacal flourish, and without fail he ends each song with a beatific smile stretched across his face. In the cavernous, crumbling, ornate Moore Theater, where Mercury Rev will open for American roots rockers Wilco (a weird, feverish pairing if ever there was one), the band's symphonic highs and lows, and Donahue's yearning, tremulous vocals, should be gloriously well staged.

Whether you're experiencing it live or through headphones as you lie helpless and sweating in your sick bed, Mercury Rev, and the entirety of All Is Dream, is illumined with moody lighting and swollen with mesmerizing, lulling sound. It's hypnotic, forceful, wistful, and gorgeous. Like an altered state of mind, the sensation is powerful, but pleasantly, perfectly irregular.

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