Gig Review: Echo & The Bunnymen at Rock City

Words: Lawrence Poole
Photos: Nigel King
Monday 18 March 2024
reading time: min, words
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In the rock ‘n’ roll fraternity’s generous cannon, there is surely rarely a more contradictory frontman than Ian Stephen McCulloch.

Shy, yet commanding, ramshackle yet imposing, mumbling yet powerful, the Liverpudlian frontman is the epitome of contradiction – perhaps that’s why he remains so enthralling nearly 50 years after forming this post-punk collective.

Now 64, he wears it well too with trademark bouffant hair and sunglasses, dark trousers and jacket – it’s an identity synonymous with the Scouser known better to his acolytes as Super Mac.

In town as part of their Songs To Learn & Sing Tour, the outfit’s set is split into two halves, with appropriately, the lesser-known tracks before the short interval and the Bunnymen standards following it.

Flanked by the group’s only other original member, guitarist Will Sergeant (think Ricky Tomlinson’s smarter and trimmer, hipster little brother), the Bunnymen are on great form throughout.

Sergeant has that rare ability to possess a playing style which is immediately identifiable as his – Peter Hook and Johnny Marr both have it too – there must have been something in the water in the North West in the 1980s.

From Going Up and All That Jazz (cut from debut LP, Crocodiles) to All My Colours from the follow-up release Heaven Up Here, to first set closer, the shimmeringly epic Bring On The Dancing Horse, it’s a gothic masterclass from Sergeant, which McCulloch is content to vocally surf across the top of.

It’s the second set, where things really take flight though.

A joyous Seven Seas sparks the first real communal sing-a-long, while the oft-tagged (by the man himself) ‘greatest song ever written’, The Killing Moon soars and soars.

The Liverpool fan even has time to throw out a few barely decipherable quips about the current top flight relegation battle – ‘Sheffield United, I hope they go back to division 4 – Forest, we’ll see you next year’.

By the time an epically-delivered Lips Like Sugar is aired (thumpingly powered on by drummer Simon Finley), the six-piece have fully transported large swathes of the crowd right back to their teenage bedrooms in the early 1980s, when a Tory Government had last brought a nation to its knees – Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Thankfully then, music, as ever, continues to prove the eternal light in whichever darkness it shines.

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