- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

The eclectic, often volatile rock band Mercury Rev has calmed down considerably since its debut album, "Yerself Is Steam," 10 years ago, but the group retains a strong ability to draw beauty from chaos.
"There's always been that element of chaos," guitarist-clarinetist Grasshopper (aka Sean Mackowiak), one of the band's founders, says via phone. "It manifests itself in different ways, though. It used to be the music was chaotic now it's more of a mental thing, but I think it's a lot healthier."
Mercury Rev plays the 9:30 Club Monday.
As Grasshopper is quick to point out, riots no longer break out at Mercury Rev's concerts and the group's lineup has remained stable for the past several years. Aside from Grasshopper, that includes Jeff Mercel (percussion, piano) and other founding members Jonathan Donahue (guitar, vocals) and Dave Fridmann (bass).
On the band's fifth studio album, "All Is Dream," the group solidifies the lush, psychedelic sound it perfected on its last album, 1998's "Deserter's Songs." It's a far cry from the art-rock noise that Mercury Rev first produced when it emerged from Buffalo, N.Y., in the late 1980s.
Then more of a side project for avant-garde film students, the band has grown into a critically acclaimed, albeit still fairly underground, cult group, with a strong following in Britain and at colleges around the United States.
Turmoil plagued the early years of the band. Mercury Rev launched a European tour in the early 1990s with no set lists and little practice, was dropped from Lollapalooza in the mid-'90s because of "excessive noise" and fired its lead singer after bitter infighting.
Those years of chaos helped the band refine its sound, though. The experimentation gave way to more focused rock on 1995's "See You on the Other Side," continued on the dreamy "Deserter's Songs" and can be heard most recently on "All Is Dream," released in September.
The title is quite appropriate because Mercury Rev's latest work is filled with quiet, strained vocals; Beatlesesque harmonies; and a rich tapestry of guitars, synthesizers and strings that makes it a beautiful form of sonic wallpaper. As Mercury Rev members have become better musicians, they've also expanded their musical repertoire. They are experimenting more with strings on this album and even tried to add a boys choir the mix didn't turn out right to give one of the songs more depth.
"A lot of people say psychedelic, but that word has a lot of connotations to it," Grasshopper says. "Our music does transport you somewhere. It takes you to another world."
The group plans to continue touring around the world next year, with plans to release a live recording in the near future. Mercury Rev has also been approached about doing a film soundtrack sometime in 2002.
"We always want to push ourselves and make emotional music that hopefully touches people in different ways, both lyrically and in the musical sense," Grasshopper says.

WHAT: Mercury Rev with opening act Philistein Juniors
WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
TICKETS: $15
PHONE: 202/432-SEAT


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