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Live Review: Echo and The Bunnymen at the Vic Theatre

| November 26, 2018 | 0 Comments

 

Echo & the Bunnymen
The Vic Theatre
November 24, 2018

Liverpool may have been put on the map by the Beatles, but Echo and the Bunnymen continue to prove that the town in Northwest England has other musical gifts to offer the world. On Saturday, the Bunnymen returned to Chicago with a six-piece lineup led by vocalist Ian McCulloch and influential alt-pop guitarist Will Sergeant. The two founding members were supported by a tightly-knit quartet of players that honored the band’s legacy with power and heart.

The modern-day Bunnymen drew heavily upon the band’s five albums between 1980 and 1987, beginning with “Going Up” from debut album Crocodiles. Clad in black from jacket to boots, McCulloch greeted Chicago thanked the crowd for coming in his signature heavy Liverpudlian accent. With a riveting version of “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” McCulloch proved that his nicotine baritone required no warm-up period. “Rescue” got the seated Vic audience on its feet and dancing, as Sergeant slashed at his Fender Jaguar with precision and velocity. During “Never Stop,” Sergeant’s sinewy leads crafted a counterpoint to heighten the emotion of McCulloch’s rich vocal.

Although the show was sold out, a couple of seats lingered empty at front and center. McCulloch took notice and thanked the “Invisible Man” for his attendance and support. A few songs later, force of nature McCulloch grew to abhor the void and declared the seats available to any fans in the back who wanted them. By the time the group launched the surging and urgent “Villiers Terrace” and transitioned into the Doors’ loping “Roadhouse Blues,” new faces were seen up front singing along with vigor.

The band’s sound traveled into the present with flourishes echoing the transformed arrangements of classic songs like “All My Colours (Zimbo)” on current album The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon. New song “The Somnambulist” found McCulloch still soul-searching and resolved to hold onto the power of dreams. The stirring hymn boded well for any new Bunnymen full-length album that might follow 2014’s Meteorites.

McCulloch was engaged with the crowd, although it’s reasonable to say that few could parse his accent. Before singing “Nothing Lasts Forever,” McCulloch admitted the irony between being asked to tell more stories and then being told that no one could understand what he was saying. “Trust me, everything I’m saying is genius,” he concluded with reliable bravado and humor.

People understood what was most important, though, as McCulloch stoked the crowd to stand and sing the anthemic “Seven Seas.” The room swayed to the vulnerable but hopeful “Rust” from 1999’s What Are You Going to Do With Your Life album, as the song carried the swagger of David Bowie’s (and Mott the Hoople’s) anthemic “All the Young Dudes.”

People also picked up McCulloch’s meaning as he remarked upon his own inability to produce the siren whistle that greeted songs like “Over the Wall” amongst the applause. McCulloch went around the stage, asking his bandmates whether they could produce such a high, shrill sound. The players on the back line shook their heads, but Sergeant produced a keening chirp that must have woken every dog within five blocks. Immediately afterward, the room was filled with ear-splitting whistles as McCulloch cracked a mischievous grin at what he’d incited.

The heavenly elegance of “Bring on the Dancing Horses” was embellished by the intricate keyboard work and harp flourishes of keyboardist Jez Wing.
The main set concluded with spine-tingling “The Killing Moon” and the furious climax of “The Cutter.” Although the band has performed these songs for more than 30 years, McCulloch was clearly still feeling it. The famously cocksure singer has proclaimed “The Killing Moon,” in particular, as “the greatest song ever written.” He sang the song for the Vic audience as if he still believes that assessment, wringing every last drop of pathos from the lyric while his longtime partner Sergeant stood to his right unfurling torrents of heavy weather with his teardrop-shaped Vox 12-string guitar.

The Bunnymen encored with the elation of “Lips Like Sugar” featuring Sergeant’s meaty, singalong guitar licks and McCulloch’s passionate tremolo. Before concluding with the intoxicating “Ocean Rain,” the singer recognized a particularly ardent pocket of fans near the front. “You’re looking at me like I’m Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’m not.”

“But we’re all related to him,” McCulloch added, appealing to the crowd to spread love and care for friends, fellow fans, and strangers alike. “Mac the Mouth” sent the audience into the streets to carry that worthy message with them.

-Jeff Elbel

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