Gig Review: Echo & The Bunnymen at Royal Concert Hall

Words: Michael Prince
Photos: Nigel King
Monday 18 September 2023
reading time: min, words

Echo & The Bunnymen performed Ocean Rain in full along with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra...

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After a week or so of unbearable heat, the weather changed, and so we had Ocean Rain, a prophecy of the past and future. There was also a potential aurora, but the glare of Nottingham and a blanket of drizzle put paid to any celestial display. On the other hand, there was brilliance at The Royal Concert Hall.  

Ocean Rain is one of those iconic albums that America sometimes forgets about, even if it made it onto film soundtracks. It had not been forgotten here, as tonight witnessed. A full house, but as my friends said, “Has anything changed really since it came out and has the world got better or worse?” I think that depends from where you stand.  

The Bunnymen have been pretty much a constant for me since the eighties. Always there. Somewhere, I have a battered copy of the album. Tonight was an opportunity to hear it as I’d never heard it before: full live orchestral backing, and the Liverpool Philharmonic at that. 

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The night was split into four parts; support by Erica Nockalls, who I’d last seen in Camden at Indie Daze. The second part was The Bunnymen playing newer stuff, followed by another break, and then a full rendition of Ocean Rain. Finally, they had an encore. 
It’s about ten years since I saw Ian McCulloch at Latitude Festival and he looked leaner and healthier tonight, but still displaying his iconic stance at the microphone, almost rigidly hiding behind it, dark glasses and tussled hair. 

A brief tribute, mentioning Bill Drummond, self-recognition that they were celebrating the “best album ever made”, the recording in Paris, and they launched into the album. At the time of the launch, Echo and the Bunnymen rode the crest of a wave along with The Teardrop Explodes and U2. The world was their oyster.  

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An iconic album sleeve, it is still haunting to this day. McCulloch gave hints of depression within the songs and in the intermediate breaks, a reflection of the times, all too relevant today. Difficult to hear him at times, this was beautifully reciprocated when an incoherent heckle lead to him saying “I know they say you have to understand your audience, but really?” Not so much lost in translation as dialects.

The album is a beautiful response, sad and measured to the times of the mid-eighties and the band’s passage through those times. It was a pleasure to have the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with them, neither the band nor orchestra outdoing one another, but a perfect complement and a beautiful tribute to fantastic musicians.  

Popular music is often dismissed, but this stands with the classics. I’m not sure if everyone noticed, but the projected back-set of the Liver birds freeing themselves from their plinths as the band played The Cutter was a perfect and fitting finale.

Echo & The Bunnymen performed at the Royal Concert Hall on 12 September 2023.

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