Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Echo and The Bunnymen’s Animalistic Assault on Heaven

My ears are still Echoing from the sounds of the Bunnymen at The Paradise Rock Club in Boston last night. The set featured the band’s stellar first two albums, Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here, in full (back to back, with nary a pause in between). Highlights included “Crocodiles” and “All That Jazz” from the first LP and “Show of Strength,” “It Was a Pleasure” and “Heaven Up Here” from the second, all of which the band ripped into with gusto, as well as “Do It Clean” during the encore.

In short, it was a very satisfying show (the first sell out of the tour and a Monday no less, according to singer Ian McCulloch). That’s not to be taken for granted since I’ve seen this band be stunningly brilliant on several occasions and begrudgingly going through the motions a couple of other times. The promise has outweighed the disease though in the dozen or so times I’ve seen the group in concert since 1986.

Echo & The Bunnymen, The Paradise, Boston 5/9/11
(Another Sick Frank photo)

Punny headline aside, “animalistic” does seem an apt description for last night’s performance for a couple of reasons:

First there were Mac’s numerous references to animals during his usual semi-discernable, Liverpudlian banter with the crowd (including one riff on politicians: “Any political animals in here? I think it’s crap. I think animals should be allowed to eat politicians. Well, the ones who win!”).

Second, and more significantly, there was some sonic resemblance, at times, to the loud blues rave-ups of the ’60s Brit bands The Animals and The Yardbirds. When the Bunnymen hit their mark, as they did on most songs last night, they did so with ferocity and assertion that I’ve only seen from them a few times before. Both McCulloch and his less loquacious counterpart, guitarist Will Sergeant were brutally incisive in their approach. Yes, the jangled, echo-laden crystalline melodies that are trademarks of the band’s sound were abundant, but so too were the rhythmic kick of crashing chords and hyper-driven choruses driving songs to their climax.

At this point – long since the untimely passing of original drummer Pete De Freitas and the retirement of bassist Les Pattinson – the Bunnymen have been the Mac & Will Show with a handful of anonymous supporters in tow (the one exception being the late great Michael Lee’s stint as drummer). That continues to be the case, as the the drummer, bassist, rhythm guitarist and keyboardist/percussionist were never even introduced and barely acknowledged by the two frontmen on Monday. That’s too bad, because they played well and were expertly true to the band’s signature sound and spirit. (For the record, Ian and Will were ably backed by Paul Fleming on keyboards and percussion, Gordy Goudie on guitar, Nick Kilroe on drums and Stephen Brannan on bass.)

As for the special set list, the Bunnymen have a lot of company of late in the whole live-performance-of-a-classic-album-or-two-in-its-entirety tactic. (Read about The Church’s recent triple play here.) But this time around, the familiar fare was given a bit of a twist in that the band, understandably, did the English version of Crocodiles, which didn’t include “Read It in Books” or “Do It Clean,” as the U.S. version did. (In the U.K. “Do It Clean” was the B-side of the “Rescue” single). Thus, the venerable classic was featured in its usual explosive form as part of the encore (which Mac had to explain to the bewildered crowd early on to avoid rioting).

There was a bit of a hitch in Heaven Up Here, too, when Mac abruptly cut off “The Disease” after only a few bars. The singer claimed the mistake, but rather than restart the song the band simply moved on to the next one. So, technically, we really didn’t get all of Heaven, though I doubt anyone sought a refund.

For the encore, the band launched into the only slightly newer, late ’80s, pop hit “Lips Like Sugar.” The crowd went wild, particularly the women who bopped and swooned to Mac’s “sugar kisses” imagery and Will’s jaunty, melodic riffs. I’ve heard the band do the song numerous times over the years, but Monday I was really struck by how it is now clearly elevated to the top of the Bunnymen’s classic repertoire. They concluded with a low-key “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which included an interlude of “The Fountain” and a bit of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”

The vintage tunes weren’t the only old habit on display; as always, Mac was decked out in dark glasses (and he admitted that he couldn’t see anything, but noted that it worked for Stevie Wonder), and he repeatedly smoked cigarettes on stage. (Didn’t Keith Richards get arrested, or at least fined, for doing that on stage not too long ago?) The singer also engaged in his usual crowd-baiting banter, though he got as good as he gave from the Beantown hooligans this time around. Nevertheless, he seemed to welcome it and he seemed in a more congenial mood than usual. He even apologized to Sergeant at one point when he began to embark on another bit of banter just as Will hit the first notes of “Rescue.”

The only real negative of the night was, after the band had played both featured albums and a respectable encore set, the crowd still clearly wanted more. The house lights remained off as the fans whooped and stomped. The light crew egged the audience on, raising expectations of more music for a good 5 minutes before the signal was finally given from stage left that the band was done and the house lights came up. Without the goading, we all would have left satisfied, but as it was, there was a slight tinge of disappointment. The call may have been made because Mac’s voice was getting a bit ragged by the end. He’d given it his all. Yes, we wanted more ... and, in this case, that was a good sign.

Oh, and did I mention it was loud?

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