Review by Paul Robinson
As I write this, on the eve of my birthday, it’s a time for reflection. I’m not talking about some hideous navel gazing, but more on what a great day it’s been. Today I saw my football team win, at home, with only ten men. Tonight in Liverpool Echo and the Bunnymen are to play one of the greatest shows of their career. A career that has been some 30 years in the making.
I’m a fan of Mac & Co and I first saw them on the 10th December 1985, and was spellbound, as I’d been waiting over a year to see them prior to this. I also missed the last train that night and slept on Lime St. Station. I know how great this gig could be and the prospect of hearing the full albums played back to back including songs they never played live even when they toured the album first time out is an exciting thought. The problem for me is trying not to frontload this review with too many superlatives.
Tonight’s show is the second of two nights at the grandly named Liverpool Olympia (although most people still know it as the Grafton Ballroom on the West Derby Road) It’s a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the first two albums, Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. A master-class in rock and roll, as McCulloch described it.
Twenty minutes before the band take to the stage, the industrial spec dry ice machines kick in, a fog seeping under the stage curtain. Camo scrim hangs from the ceiling and around the stage. Gregorian singing voices emerge from the gloom, the curtain dramatically drops and the Bunnymen arrive.
‘Going Up’ begins, Will Sergeants’ guitar keening through the air, slowly building and the rest of the band pick up the rhythm, the bass swaggers and it peaks and the outro fades into ‘Stars Are Stars’. The dry ice swirls, the band, complete with camo fatigues are shadowy figures backlit. It’s refreshing to hear ‘Crocodiles’ and ‘Rescue’ mid set, rather than at the end of the set or as an encore. When the album was originally released on vinyl, the title track closed side A and Rescue opened side B. By playing the set in the same order as the LP, it’s perfectly weighted. Side A builds slowly ending with the pummelling piece of psyche-punk that is Crocodiles. Rescue, the lead single from the LP immediately follows sounding fresh and Macs voice is in fine form.
As the band finish the first set, McCulloch adds “We’re gonna have an interval, have a smoke, get a beer. We gotta change the backdrop. See you in twenty minutes”.
The band duly return and after whetting the appetite with ‘Show Of Strength’ and ‘With A Hip’, launch into a staggering version of ‘Over The Wall’, Sergeant is giving a master-class in freakbeat guitar shredding, the strobes pulse, and even Mac has to admit that the songs they’re playing sound better now than they did back in the day, and he’s right. It’s a shame then, that in the age of iPods and Spotify, some in the crowd are too used to cherry picking tracks from albums rather than listening to the whole, as intended. Tracks from the latter side of Heaven Up Here go largely unrecognised by many, but these are the real gems, as they are given an overhaul that didn’t come across in the studio.
As the band leave the stage once more, you wonder what they will pick as encores, as there is easily another full sets worth of classics to choose from.
“This is one to warm your cockles” states Mac as an introduction to ‘Lips Like Sugar’. There’s a bit more life in the old classics yet, a lush version of ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, the most recent song played tonight follows. ‘Killing Moon’ is the penultimate song tonight, the “best song ever written”, off the “greatest album ever made” according to McCulloch and on a night like this it could be true. Tonight has been a triumph, Echo and the Bunnymen are a band reasserting their relevance by acknowledging their past.