Sunday, 11 May 2014

916 ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, Black Submarine, Oxford O2 Academy, Saturday 10 May 2014

The hectic early May clutch of gigs continues apace with a revisit of my old “home team” Echo And The Bunnymen, the mythical voice of my late teenhood period of post-punk musical discovery, arguably the band against whom, consciously or sub-consciously, all other bands have since been measured. A crushing disappointment at this venue in 2010, when their “Masterclass in Rock’n’Roll” instead delivered a sloppy, off-key and frankly uncaring performance from main man Ian McCulloch, they nevertheless performed a resurrection of sorts with an excellent, nailed on showing supporting James last April. With a new album “Meteorites”, due out soon and apparently having re-ignited Mac’s enthusiasm and swagger, I was intrigued as to which Bunny would hop onstage tonight. So I booked myself a ticket with expectations suitably adjusted – I just want them to do justice to their legacy, that’s all…
I was joined tonight by new facebook friend but old Level 3 face Rich May, and we set off early doors, parking up after a short wait in what is now the World’s Busiest Car Park (official) behind Cowley Road Tesco, meeting up with Oxford-domiciled Rich Craven and his mates before hitting the venue about 7.15. Support Black Submarine were already onstage, plying some overpowering shoegazy noise. Maudlin, morbid and morose, and featuring ethereal vocals from their female singer, they seemed intent on creating mood at the expense of tunes. Apparently featuring a couple of members of The Verve, a band I also didn’t like very much, they did little for me – sorry, for me this Black Submarine has sunk under the weight of its’ pretensions…
I took a wander forward, stage left, for the main event, The Bunnymen coming on fairly swiftly after the lights had dimmed at 8.25 (10 minutes after their due time – which for them is early!) and the usual Gregorian chanting backing track had kicked in. Easing in with an elegiac new number, an unkempt Mac’s voice initially seemed strained, a gravelly rasp embellishing his higher octave work, which he ascribed to, “a frog in my throat, bear with me…” prior to an unexpected, shimmeringly eerie “Nocturnal Me”. “Rescue” finally kicked the gig into life, Mac asking for the crowd to sing along, and getting his wish; however subsequent newie “Holy Moses” (“it’s a potential classic... tell us in 3 ½ minutes, but I already know,” announced Mac with his usual bluster) sailed uncomfortably close to Simple Minds’ stadium bland-out “(Don’t You) Forget About Me”.
Given Mac’s admission of suffering with his throat tonight, we were inclined to cut him some slack; that said, The Voice settled down, only sounding slightly strained at higher levels, nailing the lower octave lines as perfectly and hauntingly as usual. A loose-limbed “Bedbugs And Ballyhoo”, with an extended, Doors-like piano mid-section, was an early highlight, then the “Porcupine”-like wall of noise of “Constantinople” proved the best of the new numbers on display tonight. We also got some Diva-like behaviour from Mac; he took 2 goes to get new number “New Horizons” started, asking a couple of punters to, “shut the fuck up while this is playing!”, then abandoned it altogether, claiming he wasn’t, “feeling it”. The subsequent “All That Jazz” also required 2 starts, but was full of bilious ire and seething drama, Mac’s frustrations channelled perfectly, and easily the best number to that point. A stately “Bring on the Dancing Horses” was also superb, for me even eclipsing the subsequent, slightly understated “Killing Moon”, then Mac introduced “the last song – it’s 3 hours long… minus 2 hours 57…”, a magnificent “Cutter”, the huge crescendo and Mac’s soaring vocals dovetailing perfectly to end the set on a real high.
The band returned after the audience sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Mac quipping, “we only came back because you sang that,” then “Nothing Lasts Forever”, which Mac segued in with clips from “Walk on The Wild Side”, “In The Midnight Hour”, and a Brendan Rodgers namecheck (!), drew the performance to a close, Mac by now just about done. A few odd moments, but a million times better than last time out here, for sure…
An early one too! This finished just after 9.45, so we repaired to a local bar for an hour of entertaining music and comic chat, also being invaded by a couple of 20 year old girls who proceeded to lead us in rowdy versions of Squeeze’s “Up The Junction” and Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him”! A surreal end to a fine evening of good music and good company, and a band thankfully doing justice to their legacy tonight, and that’s all I can ask of them.

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