For a band to play its first-ever Utah gig on a Sunday night is a dicey proposition–plenty of times, that combination of circumstances makes for a frustratingly sparse crowd.

The Waterboys built up enough interest in Utah over the past three decades to thankfully fill most of The State Room for their show Sunday night, and those lucky enough to motivate were treated to a ribald set that lasted more than two hours and 21 songs, a performance full of insistent Irish folk-rock, incredible musicianship and some cheeky between-song banter from leader Mike Scott.

The band started the proceedings with two songs from arguably their most popular album, 1988′s Fisherman’s Blues, opening with “Strange Boat” and moving quickly into the title track, to the delight of the long-time fans crowding the front of the stage. After a dive back to their self-titled 1981 album with “A Girl Called Jonny,” it was yet another song from Fisherman’s, the ballad “We Will Not Be Lovers,” that marked the band truly hitting its stride.

And what a band Scott has backing him up. Dublin-based fiddler Steve Wickham was a wonder all night, dancing and playing an array of electric and acoustic fiddles to bring the traditional Irish vibe. He’s a remarkable player, and a blast to watch, and knew when to use restraint when called for–on “White Birds,” his delicate strokes across the strings evoked a distant bird’s cry to great effect. Jay Barclay was another ace–moving between electric guitars, mandolin and banjo, ripping off incredible solos on songs like “Song of the Wandering Aengus” and the set-closing “Don’t Bang the Drum.”

Scott introduced “The Girl in the Swing” as “a love song, in the blues idiom,” and it was one of a batch of killer romantic numbers. “When Ye Go Away” was right up there, and “Spirit” leading into “Whole of the Moon” made for a powerful one-two punch, with Scott starting the songs solo at piano before his band filled the stage and took the song from simple to expansive.

Among the other highlights Sunday night: a raucous “Just Found God” from the band’sDream Harder album, “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy,” a traditional Irish jig, “Mad as the Mist and Snow,” a sprawling set piece from the band’s latest, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, and a fine cover of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

By the time the band finished with a monstrous take on “Be On Enemy” from theirThis Is the Sea album, giving each musician a chance to solo, and featuring plenty of false stops–only to have Scott crank up the band again. It was a truly joyful night full of traditional sounds and honest-to-God rock and roll, courtesy of a guy who still sounds great more than three decades into his career.

It might have been the first stop in Utah for The Waterboys, but judging by the performance on Sunday, the band should have plenty of juice left to come through town again. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take Scott another six years to get to The Waterboys’ next North American trek.

(photos courtesy of The Waterboys/Paul MacManus)