Echoes of the Original Bunnymen
Live at Irving Plaza, NYC, November 20, 2005
It's been a good 20+ years since I last saw Echo & the Bunnymen live, but the smell of cloves, Aqua Net and dry ice still permeates the fabric of my being. Seeing them now was just like it was yesterday. I didn't pay much attention to them after The Killing Moon, as it was hard to top that--the culmination of 3 phenomenal albums: Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here and Porcupine. Even at the time, being the goth/punk teenager I was, don't think I appreciated the complexity or implications of their music which is now prevalent in retrospect.
Sure, they were gothic and dark and exceptionally brooding. I remember working outside in the searing heat of Nevada for months at a time, in heat so hot that at 3 in the afternoon we would quit work and go back to the stone-walled motel. I would close all the drapes, crank the AC, turn off the lights, and put on Echo & the Bunnymen. Nothing was cooler. Nothing could better ice the molecules in the air, slowing them down into perfect reverberation. Their music had a chilling atmospheric effect that could transport you to the types of dreamy places shown on their early album covers.
Is this the blues I'm singing?
Absolutely. And now 20+ years later, after some (perhaps requisite) bad pop albums, Ian's solo career, and a destined-for-failure attempt at an Ian-less Bunnymen, they are back full circle, or at least Ian Mcculloch and Will Sergeant were back, with three other youngsters in support. And while it would have been nice to see the original bassist, Les Pattinson, the new guy was able to hold his own.
When they started with a Show of Strength, that was a good sign. They sounded as good as ever. Ian Mcculloch still has his voice--even the vulnerabilities are still intact. Fame may have rightfully given him a cocky edge as he definitely seemed more confident than I remember--at times aloof, occasionally throwing himself into a mock dance, sometimes even ironically imitating the bubbly girls in front, though his humor went well over their heads. Can you blame him for needing to amuse himself?
A funny thing
They went on to play a long set (an hour and forty-five minutes, including 2 encores) of mostly early material. I would've liked to hear All My Colours or the The Puppet but that was probably asking for too much. Though they did roll around on the carpet and pull the strings of Villiers Terrace, and played almost all the other early classics. For one of the final encores, Over the Wall, they even brought out "Echo," or at least echoes of the original drum machine that gave them their name.
Hold me tight
What do you call this symphony of noise they came up with? The tribal drums and distant, reeling guitars, the crooning voice, ever-changing, perfectly arranged. To think of them coming up with songs like Over the Wall makes the head reel.
What were you thinking of
And while they are definitely British, the blatant nods to The Doors and James Brown were prevalent in either the form of covers, or medleys where Ian skillfully weaved their lyrics in and out of their songs. For one of the songs off their new album, he subtly transitioned into a soulful rendition of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side, as if to ground the audience with something American and familiar (it seemed most were like us and hadn't heard the new album). But then he would fade back into their original numbers, that were distinctly original. And the funny thing is that although his singing voice is crystal clear and you can understand his lyrics perfectly, when he spoke in between songs he may as well have been speaking Swahili--thought he did say it was good to be back in New York and during another break he tried to unsuccessfully question the girl in front of us about her Warsaw T-shirt (perhaps thinking it was in reference to the early Joy Division "Warsaw" as opposed to a club in Brooklyn) then proceeded to call the guy to our right "The Edge" (there was an uncanny resemblance).
As prospects diminish
All in all, I think the consensus was that Echo & the Bunnymen still have it.
Thanks to Jessica for taking most of these pictures.
Get Echo and the Bunnymen at
(c) 2005 Derek White and Jessica Fanzo