Sunday, 6 February 2011

776 ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, A Silent Film, Oxford Academy, Saturday 12 December 2009

Back with the Bunnymen to the scene of their last triumph, about 3 ½ years ago upstairs in this venue, and amazingly back again to see the Bunnymen in Oxford in December, a mere 28 years after my first such sighting! Yes, it was December 1981, gig 2, that I first saw the band who were to become my first real musical loves, staccato dancing their way through an epic "Heaven Up Here"–based set in Oxford’s New Theatre. Although we’re not expecting Mac to hurl himself about with such gay abandon these days, this should still be a cracker, I thought as I set off down to Oxford on a dark and crisp Saturday evening.

Parked up in the last Tesco car park space dead on 8, getting into the venue just as support A Silent Film were finishing their set. A shame I missed them really, as the denouement sounded epic and swelling, a perfect fit for tonight really… So I mooched about and admired the retro Bunny t-shirts on offer at the merch stand, eventually squirming my way near the front, about half a dozen rows back, stage left, for the witching hour at 9.

The first thing to note was the relative lack of dry ice; normally Bunny gigs are choking affairs, the band indiscernible through the fog, like riders on the storm (ha!). Not this time. The second – and most surprising - was that dead on 9, the allotted time, the lights plunged, the Gregorian monk chanting started up and the Bunnymen took the stage… on time! Will wonders never cease, I thought…

The same double salvo of "Going Up" and "Show Of Strength", the opening tracks from their first 2 albums, started proceedings, as they did previously. However, this time there was life and power to the set immediately; none of the restraint of last time out, as "Strength"s doomy bass shook the rafters and Mac’s baritone read the lyric like a proclamation from on high. A chiming, sing-along "Rescue" followed, the song deviating into "Broke My Neck" before returning for an epic climax. However "Villier’s Terrace" topped even that, a brilliantly powerful version, the off-kilter keyboard riff ringing out like liberty bells, loud and resonant, before the segue once again into the Doors’ "Roadhouse Blues". Marvellous.

The set flew by; a couple of numbers from new CD "The Fountain", the most satisfying album since their mid-90s reformation, sounding at home in the company of "Seven Seas" and a chiming "Silver", so ably embellished by the intricate riffery of Will Sergeant. Indeed, Sergeant, the architect of the Bunnymen sound, was the star for me tonight, his masterful fretwork sending strafes of sound whirling around the venue and the enthusiastic (in Oxford! Will wonders never cease, I thought again!) crowd. Mac himself was also in good form, joking with the crowd about Tolkien ("he’s a tosser!") and Peter Kay ("the tight git served my mate a Fray Bentos pie") amongst others, and saying, "that was my impression of Liverpool football club," when he took a swing at his wine cork and missed. His performance was by no means note-perfect, but on the occasions he allowed his voice to soar (the set closer "The Cutter" being the finest example), my God, did it soar.

A hushed "Killing Moon", the first verse sung, word-perfect of course, by the audience, preceded encore "Nothing Lasts Forever", Mac referring to this stately ballad as, "one of the best songs ever made". A messy but enjoyable "Lips Like Sugar" medley ended another massive night from Echo And The Bunnymen. My first musical loves, and my word I love them still!

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