Half a great Echo & the Bunnymen show is better than no show at all.
Revolution Hall, Portland, OR
(Photo: Yousef Hatlani)
Though only two original members of the band remain, Echo & the Bunnymen continues to soldier on, dutifully putting out albums at the one-every-four-years clip like contemporaries Depeche Mode do. But while Depeche Mode plays giant arena shows, going out on world tours to support new albums, Echo & the Bunnymen are less of a rare bird, touring on a regular basis, even pairing up with acts such as Violent Femmes to hit the summer outdoor circuit.
During last year’s tour, Depeche Mode willfully played new material, digging into Spirit and holding back some of their greatest hits. Echo & the Bunnymen, on the other hand, are clearly looking towards the past. At the Portland show this week, 14 of the 17 songs on the setlist came from the band’s first five albums (or were singles from that time). Hell, even The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon, the album the band released in October, consists of re-recorded versions of old songs.
In front of a sold-out crowd, Echo & the Bunnymen played for an hour and a half. Singer Ian McCulloch, fit and youthful at 59, stood center-stage, looking a bit like Nick Cave but lacking his bravado and energy. The Liverpudlian still retained his ire, frequently complaining about the levels of his vocals and even aborting show-closer “Ocean Rain” because some “fucking twat down front won’t stop giggling.” Rather than pulling a Morrissey and walking off the stage, McCulloch called a non-setlist audible and played an inspired “Do It Clean” to end the concert.
It must be difficult for older acts to feel anything while playing the same songs for 40 years. It is understandable when guys like Dave Gahan and Martin Gore elect to include so much new stuff on setlists. Though there were flashes, McCulloch seemed somewhat disaffected during the show, the band somewhat lifeless at times. I’ve seen acts like Adam Ant, Psychedelic Furs and Peter Hook’s thing recently and all of those guys felt like they were giving 110%. McCulloch seemed like he just wanted to get things over and done with.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t flashes of brilliance. “All My Colours (Zimbo)” was appropriately haunting and McCulloch appeared to be feeling it. The impromptu “Do It Clean” was fiery. Deeper cuts such as “Villiers Terrace” and “Over the Wall” were actually more exciting that the more anticipated hits like “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “Seven Seas.”
McCulloch’s voice isn’t the same as it used to be. He can no longer command a song with the same bellow and he can’t really croon any longer. He dropped out of some of the more difficult portions of the “The Cutter,” allowing the audience to do the heavy work. His voice worked better on the more tender songs, and it’s a shame they cut off “Ocean Rain” after only a few moments.
Still, half a great Echo & the Bunnymen show is better than no show at all. Perhaps McCulloch and the crew need to play out a little less, recharging like Depeche Mode does. Or maybe we need more people talking up front to get the blistering McCulloch we saw at the end of the Portland show.