This evening in the newly refurbished but remarkably familiar Wulfrun Hall I was stoked with anticipation to see, for the first time, what I consider to be an essential part of British alternative music, and perhaps an under appreciated part. Now, there are those amongst us that know ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN because of the sublime us of ‘Killing Moon’ on the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Their take on The Doors ‘People Are Strange’ will always be a point of note as the popularity of The Lost Boys movie never really wanes. More recently they have found inclusion in the soundtrack to raved about Stranger Things. There are also those of us that have passionately followed the band throughout their 38 year musical journey. This here journalist falls somewhere between the two. I’ve always had a soft spot, own many of the singles and a handful of the albums, and I recognise McCulloch and Sergeant as being up there with the best singer and guitarist the British alternative scene has spawned. However, before I share with you, my lovely reader, my thoughts on their performance, some space on this screen needs to be dedicated to tonight’s support act.
THE PROBES also hail from the eternal music hotbed of Liverpool. They present an unassuming image, they could just be another indie or post Britpop band. Luckily they have a little more to them than that. Described previously as “psych meets Neu “ they grab the attention of the assembled with a mix of trippy shoegaze, psychadelia and good old alternative rock, all given an adrenaline shot of the arm. The tempo is generally high, the guitar work is head spinning and heaven reaching thanks to what must be one heck of a pedal board, and the vocals are engaging with hints of Inspiral Carpets, The Cure and probably most aptly, Ian McCulloch. THE PROBES are brave tonight (and perhaps every night) as they offer up lengthy psychadelic trips and fuzzed out walls of noise, but luckily and rightly the crowd stay put and seem to appreciate the goods on offer. THE PROBES have been around the Liverpool scene for a few years. Hopefully a stint supporting the Bunnymen will see them gain a wider audience.
Bands with a career as long as ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN can be an intimidating proposition live. Disappointment can loom if the band look like their just rehashing glory days to top up the bank account. How to balance new material versus old and keep the fans happy? Long sets can feel bloated and indulgent. However, tonight the vibe is cool, ice cool. The lighting is unfussy, minimal and silhouettes the band stylishly. While I’ve never seen the band before, in my mind this is how they would have looked in 1984 or thereabouts.
Musically, the clocks are wound right back too, with almost the entirety of their set culled from the 1980s with their debut album ‘Crocodiles’ plundered the most. Each track is delivered with zeal and panache, with McCulloch cutting an effortlessly cool figure as he always has. This is a band that have no need to try too hard to recapture the thing that made people fall in love with the music in the first place, they’ve just simply still got it. No theatrics, no bloated ego trips, just a no nonsense delivery of song after quality song by a band clearly still very comfortable on the road. McCulloch’s vocals still smoulder as he croons and hollers, and a good hook is a good hook regardless of the decade it was penned. THE BUNNYMEN have delivered such hooks as copiously as the proverbial mating bunnies have delivered ickle wabbits.
Set highlights include ‘Do It Clean’, ‘Seven Seas’, the smoldering ‘All My Colours’, ‘Never Stop’ and the essential trio of ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’, ‘Killing Moon’ and ‘The Cutter’. They playfully enjoy mixing a little extra into some of their songs, most notably during the first song of the encore ‘Nothing Ever Lasts Forever’ which spars with Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, Things are wrapped up magically with ‘Lips Like Sugar’ which certainly leaves a sweet lingering sensation as we leave the venue. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN are one iconic band who have not left me disappointed, in fact I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to see them deliver tonight’s set.