thu 13/08/2020

Echo & the Bunnymen, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review – Mac and Will hit the road with added strings | reviews, news & interviews

Echo & the Bunnymen, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review – Mac and Will hit the road with added strings

Echo & the Bunnymen, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review – Mac and Will hit the road with added strings

Rock’n’roll’s Dorian Grays come over a bit baroque and play a blinder

The Bunnymen: managing to keep their minds off the beautiful game

This Echo and the Bunnymen gig in Birmingham is one that almost didn’t happen, on a tour to promote the soon-to-be-released The Stars, the Oceans and the Moon, their first album since 2014’s Meteorites. With their beloved Liverpool FC playing Real Madrid in the Champions League final, the band initially tried to shift the show to another day and put out a press release stating that long-stays Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant wouldn’t be able to put their hearts and souls into things with their minds firmly focused on events in Kiev.

It seems that their fans in the Midlands aren’t quite so passionate about the beautiful game though, and the uproar that this announcement created was enough to make things quickly revert back to the original arrangements. However, nothing in this show suggested that Mac and Will were mentally anywhere else and, after a brief intro tape of Medieval plainsong, the band ambled onto a stage bedecked with chandeliers and lush lighting, to tear into a cracking version of early single “Rescue”, accompanied by barrel-loads of dry ice and an added string quartet. This was immediately followed by the Velvet Underground-like “Villiers Terrace”, which slipped into a lift from The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, and the raw and energetic “All That Jazz”.

Despite being billed as a showcase for a new album touted as “Bunnymen classics transformed with strings and things attached”, their added string quartet seemed to be on stage just to beef up the band’s sound, rather than to create any significant musical transformation. That is, until the encore of “The Killing Moon”, which was reworked as a beautiful torch song with strings and a grand piano and which suggests that, in an age of cheap cash-in repackaged back catalogues, the new disc will truly add something worthwhile to the Bunnymen legend.

The set may have featured tunes from throughout the Bunnymen’s almost 40-year on-off-on again career, from the crowd-pleasing “Seven Seas” and “Lips Like Sugar” to new songs like “The Somnabulist” and “How Far?”, but it was 1987’s “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo” with its whirling sound and trippy Doors-like keyboards that provided the peak of a cracking show that eventually had most of the all-seated crowd in this almost sold-out gig up on their feet. The view from the audience at Symphony Hall also spookily suggested that age hasn’t withered either the 59-year-old McCulloch or 60-year-old Sergeant and that they have plenty to offer fans of their psychedelically-tinged indie rock. Sunglasses, sympathetic lighting and a ton of hair dye might have something to do with it, but even they don’t adequately explain a singing voice that seemingly didn’t require any lubrication despite a constant cloud of dry ice, but that was still more than capable of belting out classic after classic without any need for backing singers.

Their football team may not have had a great night in Kiev, but Echo and the Bunnymen played a blinder in Birmingham.

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