Tonight at the Olympia Theatre Echo and The Bunnymen are touring their classic Ocean Rain album, something that we fear will be a test of the pipes of main man Ian McCulloch. Having seen him croak through the last two shows we’ve attended, there’s a real risk that he’s shot his bolt and after some rudimentary versions of some of the hits, and some of the newer stuff, the questions over Mac’s voice start up in our mind again. Singing the chorus to ‘Never Stop’ an octave lower than the record might be testament to this. A lot of time has passed since the salad days, a lot of ciggies and bevvies, a lorra lorra laughs. You could forgive him, maybe just because he’s Mac, but tonight they’re taking on a classic, epic chapter in Bunnymen history and they better not fuck it up. It’s not just their legacy they’re playing with, it’s ours and the other 1000 people inside tonight.
After an interval in which everyone decamps to the bar and the jacks, they start it up. It’s clear by the end of ‘Silver’ that Mac is up for this, belting out the last refrain, backed by a sextet of strings. The voice is in; it wavers occasionally, but it’s still there. It’s on Oceans Rain’s album tracks that they show their mettle tonight. ‘Nocturnal Me’ is awesome, as sardonic and barrelling as it was 27 years ago, and although there’s some minor mangling of lines in both ‘Crystal Days’ and ‘The Yo Yo’ man, so much so that Mac misses a beat to giggle on mic at another missed line from Will. ‘Crown Of Thorns’ is as epic as it should be, there’s a real sense that the years are peeling away from Mac here, and he’s clearly enjoying himself. “This is the greatest song ever” is how he introduces ‘The Killing Moon’, and they way they play it he may be right, Sergeant finally getting all his cues just right on the guitar break. ‘Seven Seas’ is raucous, there’s no sense of struggle in the vocal chords, but the anticipation of the last, vertiginous notes of ‘Ocean Rain’ itself is beginning to set in. Will he make it up there, can he hold the line, is his voice like his hair, once unafraid of the heights, but now a little bit on the flat side? ‘My Kingdom’ is elevated above the recorded version and then Mac introduces ‘Ocean Rain’ with a: “this is even greater than ‘The Killing Moon’. When it’s good”. Getting the excuses in early?
They start it low, and build it up, and you can sense the energy from McCulloch now, he tries to get the crowd join in in an inappropriate hand clap, and as we approach the high notes Mac is now lifting the band up, egging them to crescendo with his hand (perhaps this newfound conductor role is why he no longer plays the guitar), and then he launches into it, “screaming…from beneath the waves.” It was like watching Vladimir Smicer taking that peno in Istanbul in 2005. Mac blasts the notes into the top corner, he nails them. It’s a release, not just for him, for me, for all of us. Our shared past is secure. “Piece of piss, innit”, says the singer. Clearly for Mac, form is temporary, but class permanent.