Echo & the Bunnymen Mix Up the Medicine
Echo & the Bunnymen
23 November 2018
I’ve been a big fan of Echo & the Bunnymen since my good buddy Stonehenge (no one knows who he is or what he’s doing) turned me on to them around the time of their release of Ocean Rain in 1984. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen them play live. So, when I heard they were playing Thanksgiving weekend at the Fillmore here in Detroit, I was so excited that I put it off until the last minute and then called my friend Kory Miller of Live Nation to get me on the comp list. No, I seriously did do that. I was on this from jump street, but no one wanted to ride along.
In person, front man Ian McCulloch embodied this quote I saw from Lilly Hiatt on Twitter, “the intoxicating sensation of not giving a fuck.” (Thx Robyn Hitchcock) Truly, I’m not sure if Ian does or does not give said fuck, but he was certainly intoxicated, describing himself as “bloody all in” at one point. He so doesn’t give a fuck that he lost his train of thought in the middle of calling Echo’s critics “twats” (hard ‘a’ sound). Bollocks to the critics! The man can still bellow and wail.
Echo’s debut record, Crocodiles, is still a touchstone for me, so when they opened with “Going Up,” the lead track from that record, and threw in the side-2 lead “Rescue,” I figured it was going to be a classic set. They went on to treat us to some deep cuts (“All That Jazz,” “All My Colours,” “Over the Wall”) and a new tune, “The Somnambulist,” that echoes all of Echo’s best characteristics.
Then it got really interesting. To my delight, they hauled out “Villiers Terrace,” a favorite of my crew, frankly for its supposed drug imagery (“mixing up the medisuh unh, unh, uhn”). I scrambled to grab a video clip as they morphed the thing into The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and eventually into Bowie’s “The Jean Genie.” It got nice and jammy and crescendoed back to “Boff someone and then you say good morning!” The classic-rock bunny trails seemed like a thing that came up in rehearsal, similar to the next number, 1994’s “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which they morphed into “Walk on the Wild Side.”
I didn’t get a clear feel for what Ian’s relationship is like with guitarist Will Sergeant (looking a bit like Tom Wilkinson) these days, but it was fun to hear them burn through some of their goth-pop classics in the latter half of the set. My kids and I have loved “kissing the tortoise shell” (rhymes with ‘borzois’) from “Seven Seas” and we have brought on “The Dancing Horses” til the cows came home. So it’s all good. But the apex of the set was clearly “Killing Moon” and “The Cutter” back to back. Will’s guitar crashes are as shattering as they were 30 years ago and the band, led by long-time tour mates bassist Stephen Brannan and keyboardist Jez Wing, did a masterful job balancing their interpretations with the expectations of the audience.
By the time they encored with “Lips Like Sugar,” I had already been sated with true post-punk sustenance. They cooled down with the laid back “Ocean Rain,” and staggered off into the damp early-winter North American chill. For my part, I came away with some of the best live collateral I’ve ever grabbed. Dig it!
At 2:10 of “Villiers Terrace” does Ian say ‘pull my thing?’ (and at 2:45 my host, Kory Miller, comes down to check on me):
“Whatever the sentence was I’ve forgotten it, so let’s get on with it!” (“Bring on the Dancing Horses”):
“The Cutter” still features some sweet bagpipey guitar from Will Sergeant: