Echo and the Bunnymen
Despite robust sales and the promise of Morrissey’s (slightly delayed) headlining set, Riot Fest reported that some Saturday tickets remained available. Perhaps the shortfall in sales was due to the exodus of multi-generational Echo and the Bunnymen fans who had packed up front for last year’s excellent festival line-up in Douglas Park. Many of those fans were likely among the sold-out throng at the Bunnymen’s regular haunt on Clark Street.
The 87-minute show at Metro flew by at breakneck pace. Despite its relative brevity, the Bunnymen did present deep cuts including “In the Margins” from 2005’s Siberia and “Nothing Lasts Forever” from 1997’s return to action Evergreen. Notably bypassed were the band’s two most recent albums. The Bunnymen’s previous Metro stop had been in support of 2014’s hymnal Meteorites.
Ian McCulloch was in strong voice from the opening notes of “Going Up” from 1980’s Crocodiles. Dressed in his uniform of dark jeans and black blazer over black hoodie, McCulloch stood in dim blue light in the center of a red-lit stage. Singing from the shadows, he kept his sunglasses on throughout the set.
The room approximated the energy of a rocket launch for “Do It Clean,” during which McCulloch allowed himself a minor mid-song tirade. With his heavy Liverpudlian accent, it was difficult to comprehend anything other than an expressed desire to “stay a week to see what happens.” Mac’s frequent comments of thanks and cheers, however, were clear enough to know he was feeling the crowd.
Will Sergeant coaxed rolling thunder from his guitar during “All That Jazz,” and dug into a signature chiming solo on “My Kingdom.” His e-bow lead line for “In the Margins” echoed David Bowie’s “Heroes.”
The four-piece band supporting McCulloch and Sergeant were vise-tight and responsive as a finely-tuned automobile engine, with mastery of dynamic shifts. When McCulloch waved a hand mid-verse during “Rescue,” the music instantly dropped to a spine-tingling hush. Mac paused to light a contraband cigarette on stage, inciting cheers from the crowd. As the band reached a new crescendo, Sergeant played an ambulance siren guitar riff and McCulloch repeated the impassioned line, “Is this the blues I’m singing?”
The Bunnymen stretched many of their arrangements with clips and nods to favorite songs. During “Over the Wall,” McCulloch sang a bit of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Sergeant echoed the vocal melody on guitar. “Villiers Terrace” morphed into the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and then Bowie’s “The Jean Genie.”
As the set reached fever pitch, McCulloch announced, “We’re at the point in the show where I’m going to point to you to sing, and I’ll let you know if you’re shite.” Every voice sang full force for “Bring On the Dancing Horses.” Although he was still in the shadows, McCulloch did appear to crack a satisfied smile during the second chorus. Afterward, Sergeant produced a beautiful teardrop-shaped Vox 12-string guitar for “The Killing Moon.”
The main set concluded with “The Cutter.” The band dropped to a whisper as the crowd sang each chorus, then roared back in as McCulloch belted the concluding “not just another drop in the ocean.”
The Bunnymen encored with a hard-charging version of “Lips Like Sugar.” McCulloch tied up a stage towel and kicked it into the audience like a football. During the expansive mid-song excursion, McCulloch drew from a cigarette while borrowing from songs including “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me” – another tribute to the late, great Bowie.
Although McCulloch had determined that the audience performed admirably during his sing-along test, that didn’t stop him from truncating the encore – apparently due to annoyance with loud talking in the balcony. Saturday’s set list was the same as the prior night’s show at First Avenue in Minneapolis, but Chicago’s show omitted the second encore of “Ocean Rain.”
– Review by Jeff Elbel
– Review Photos by Jeffrey Kotthoff
Do It Clean
All That Jazz
In the Margins
All My Colours
Over the Wall
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
Bring On the Dancing Horses
The Killing Moon
Nothing Last Forever
Lips Like Sugar