Echo & the Bunnymen
Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver BC, September 24
photo by Sharon Steele
by Yasmine Shemesh
Just before their 1984 effort, Ocean Rain, was released, Echo & the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch declared it the “greatest album ever made.” His notorious bravado earned him the nickname “Mac the Mouth,” but the ’80s Liverpool post-punk band’s significance is no joke.
On Saturday night, the Bunnymen played a classic-heavy set, with an emphasis on hits from their early catalogue. The nostalgia, however, wasn’t tired — on the contrary, the songs came off as ageless, displaying the brilliance of McCulloch’s songwriting and the staying power of the Bunnymen on the grander scale of rock music.
With guitarist Will Sergeant as the only other remaining original member, the band took the Commodore Ballroom’s stage amid a waft of smoke, hmm-ing incantations and moody stage lights. For any other band, this introduction may seemed a bit cheesy, but it was appropriately enigmatic and set the mood as they descended into songs from 1980 debut, Crocodiles — “Going Up” and title track — injecting a few lines from James Brown’s “Sex Machine” in between, which incited wild dancing from the audience.
McCulloch, wearing dark sunglasses and clasping his hands tightly around the microphone, delivered a consistently powerful vocal. His iconic voice was wonderfully dynamic in range, both melancholically low-toned and powerfully bodied, hitting high notes with ease and without excess fuss. Sergeant, though maintaining a low profile on the side of the stage, was expectedly luminous, particularly on “My Kingdom,” which brought his ebullient guitar work to the forefront (and momentarily drowning out McCulloch), and “The Cutter,” with its gorgeous Middle Eastern-inspired psychedelic riffs.
The Bunnymen paid tribute to The Doors (a band they covered on the soundtrack of 1987’s The Lost Boys) with a rendition of “Roadhouse Blues” and nodded to Lou Reed in the encore’s “Nothing Lasts Forever,” with McCulloch’s cheeky delivery of “Walk On The Wild Side.”
To close the evening, a magnificent extended rendition of “Lips Like Sugar,” with screaming instruments and lush vocals, solidified why Echo & the Bunnymen are, indeed, one of the greatest.