Review: Echo & The Bunnymen @ Manchester Ritz

ian mcculloch

Time has been kind to Echo & The Bunnymen. Not only do they look far younger than they are – albeit mostly due undying enthusiasm for new romantic haircuts and military jackets – but their songs still have aged ever so well. Admittedly, as a Bunnymen fan who was barely born when the definitive lineup split in 1988, I had some doubts ahead of my first live encounter with the group; would their songs translate well live? Did they lose some of their magic with all the splits and lineup changes over the years? Had Ian McCulloch’s voice stood the test of time?

I needn’t have worried. Anyone else among the 500-strong crowd that crammed into The Ritz last Tuesday (7/12) who shared my apprehension would also have felt instantly reassured when the thumping groove of ‘Going Up‘ kicked things off in spectacular fashion.

The intimate venue played host to a fabulous two-hour set seeing the band perform their first two albums, 1981’s ‘Crocodiles‘ and 1984’s ‘Heaven Up Here‘. Both offerings, quite rightly critically acclaimed at the time of their release, were played in their entirety and with real aplomb.

It is unbelievable that many of these songs are 30 years old – they don’t sound dated in the slightest. Neither does ‘Mac’. His striking vocal lines have the ability to lift the most mediocre of album tracks and he didn’t disappoint on this occasion. Not that there were any weak links musically.

Guitarist Will Sergeant – the other original Bunnyman in the six-piece lineup – was also a revelation, his hunched figure characteristically eschewing the limelight almost out of sight at the side of the stage, as ever dedicated to ambiance rather self-indulgence. His clever, arresting guitar parts were every bit as powerful live as I’d hoped for.

Crocodiles‘ was played to the note, retaining the edginess and freshness which makes those early tracks so distinctive. The production team deserves a special mention for recapturing the deep, resonating drum sound and crunchy bass tone present on the album perfectly.

A stellar performance of the dark and atmospheric ‘Villiers Terrace‘, dedicated to the late, great Tony Wilson, drew a predictably rapturous response from the crowd, as did the wonderful rawness of ‘All That Jazz‘.

The frontman was clearly in jocular mood, indulging in the obligatory Scouse/Manc banter with gig-goers, while the latter half of the evening saw the delivery of a flawless rendition of the more polished, sample and drum machine-laden ‘Heaven Up Here‘.

A Promise‘ was the highlight of the evening, with McCulloch’s razor-sharp vocals purveying a vivid sense of anxiety, leading the mechanical drums, rhythmic bass and haunting synthesisers ominously towards overwhelming crescendos, allowing Seargant’s intoxicating lead guitar riff to take centre stage.

The percussive and off-the-wall ‘It Was a Pleasure‘ also showed a band full of confidence and enjoyment, as did the extended encore featuring some choice cuts from the later efforts in the band’s impressive back catalogue. The melodic and charming ‘Lips Like Sugar‘ provided a welcome break from the more melancholic material, with the awe-inspiring Carnatic brilliance of ‘The Cutter‘ ending things on a real high note.

All in all it was a performance which showed just why Mac and his band of Bunnymen will be remembered long after their punk contemporaries have been forgotten. How could I ever have doubted them?

(Luke Dixon)

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