'Oh Mercy' in the 21st Century

2001-08-16, Century II Convention Center, Wichita, KS

Today’s show is a request from Chris Manning. Reminder that any Annual subscriber can request a show! More info here.

The formula of the August 18, 2001 setlist in Wichita was pretty simple: Classics plus Time Out of Mind. Of the 18 songs, most are a '60s or '70s chestnut, and most of what’s left come off his latest album. 'Love & Theft' is still a few weeks away and, despite winning the Academy Award for it earlier in the year, he doesn't do the more recent "Things Have Changed".

Only two songs don't fall into one of the classic-of-Time camps. One is the gospel cover "Somebody Touched Me," which I looked at a while back.

The other is "Everything Is Broken."

Though it won’t run for a bit, I'm writing this only a week after Shadow Kingdom. In that, a different Oh Mercy song, "What Was It You Wanted," was the odd man out. So I've got Oh Mercy on the brain, and I decided to look at how Oh Mercy songs have fared live.

I was going to focus on Oh Mercy in the Never Ending Tour era and then remembered - duh - Oh Mercy came out during the Never Ending Tour. 

I somehow think of Oh Mercy as existing apart from the Never Ending Tour. It wasn't recorded with his road band. It sounds nothing like Bob sounded live in 1989. And, given that it was his new album, he didn't even play the songs live that much when it came out; in 1990, the first full year with Oh Mercy out, not a single song from that album was among his most-played five, and only one landed among the top 10 or even 15 ("Everything I Broken," same song as in today's 2001 Wichita show, at #8). 

But I still wanted to see how long the songs stuck around, so I decided to see which Oh Mercy tracks lasted in the 21st century. Given that none of them have ever really been setlist staples (with one notable exception), more had stuck around than I expected.

"Political World" did not make it to the 21st century, but, to my surprise, "Where Teardrops Fall" did. Barely. In fact, the only year he performed it post-'90s was 2001, the same year as the Wichita show that inspired this. Maybe he was on an Oh Mercy kick that year. It popped up six times.

"Everything Is Broken" obviously got played, since its appearance inspired this. As it turns out, the song's been played 285 times live, but today’s Wichita show is its sixth-to-last performance ever. A few more times in 2001, once in 2003, and then done. Here’s the Wichita one:

Interestingly, "Ring Them Bells," though never performed often, got performed more in the 2000s than it did in the years immediately following Oh Mercy's release. It’s also Oh Mercy’s most-covered song, according to Second Hand Songs, clearly becoming the album’s most-widely-remembered track even though “Everything Is Broken” was the single and “Most of the Time” got the video treatment. This 2004 “Ring Them Bells” in Uncasville, CT is particularly good.

"Man in the Long Black Coat" is Oh Mercy's most-played song, topping "Everything Is Broken" by just two performances. It also made more regular appearances in the 21st century than most, popping up a few times almost every year until the Set took over in 2013. The Prague '95 performance remains untouchable, but, for a different feel from that spooky dirge, this relatively jaunty version from 2009 is interesting.

No 21st century "Most of the Time"s - too bad, it would sound great in 80-year-old Bob's voice. But the album’s next track, "What Good Am I" is the most recent song performed in a regular concert. In fact, it's the only Oh Mercy song to ever become part of the unchanging Set, being played at every show in 2013 and the first part of 2014. This one comes from Tokyo, March 31 2014, included on the excellent fan compilation Things Have Changed - 2014 Tour.

We can skip "Disease of Conceit" too - nothing since 1996 - to land at the one performance I’m sure everyone reading this knows: "What Was It You Wanted." We would have had to skip that too, except its Shadow Kingdom appearance marked the song’s first performance of the 21st century. And, if you read my ranking, you know how highly I thought of it.

So, finally, "Shooting Star," one of the best songs on the album and, thankfully, one of the most-performed in the 21st century. The winning version on my Best of the NET poll was one from 2003, but I'm partial to this 2006 version from Bakersfield, California.

2001-08-16, Century II Convention Center, Wichita, KS