Ash Wednesday night in the dirty auld town and the Olympia beckons as the lost boys and girls of yesteryear gather in its fittingly fading Victorian splendour to pay homage to the most enigmatic of the Eighties indie greats, Echo & The Bunnymen. A going concern for nigh on forty years and with a past as chequered and varied as their line-up, theirs is a legacy and history that was guaranteed to sell out the venue. But can Ian McCulloch and his trusty side kick Will Sergeant recapture and recreate those moments of dark swirling beauty that beguiled and bewitched us back in the salad days of our youth? We’ll see…
A slightly delayed start ensures that the audience, having been warmed up by the punchy pop-tones of local lads The Darling are fully present and fully voiced as they welcome the Bunnymen with a roof raising and barnstorming roar. The lights are low and the dry ice on full as they take to the boards, smoke and mirror shades to hide the aging face of McCulloch. There’s no glimpse behind the curtain, no big reveal; Mac’s myth and mystique are to remain intact. Now operating as a six piece, they launch into ‘Crocodiles’ and the journey begins as we tiptoe our way back to those halcyon days of overcoats, paisley shirts and Dr Martin boots.
Bang and next up we’re straight into ‘Rescue’. Mac’s smokey beaten vocals are on form tonight, it looks like we’re going to be spared the cutting car crash Mac that’s been known to haunt previous Bunnymen outings. With McCulloch being a Scouser and us being in Dublin there’s the obligatory banter – “best audience ever”, “up the reds” and all that malarky. A tried and tested format but also a tired one. It adds an inevitability to proceedings and the first cracks in the mirror begin to appear.
The set moves from dizzying heights to mediocrity, from ‘Seven Seas’ to ‘Holy Moses’. The man who would be Morrison indulges himself and unfortunately us with not one but two offerings from The Doors back pages namely ‘Road House Blues’ and ‘People Are Strange’. And herein lies the rub. The singer is so busy playing the rock and roll raconteur, channelling Morrison, Reed et all with his vocal ambles through rock’s history that he’s in danger of neglecting his own legacy. Thirty plus years ago this may have seemed edgy and insightful but tonight it comes across as jaded and trite.
There’s too much of this codology and shtick in tonight’s show. It threatens to drag Mac off his self- erected mantle of indie cult hero and reduce him to cabaret singer status. The well-rehearsed “lets have a sing along” spontaneity of ‘Dancing Horses’ is hackneyed and almost destroys the epic glory of that ’80s anthem. Almost.
There is an obvious disconnect between the young knives that recorded these classics and the band that stand before us now. They try to recapture those mercurial moments of youth and inevitably fail. But there’s no shame in their failure and fear not, all is not lost. This being a Bunnymen gig there are moments of pure brilliance. Dwelling on the negative seems petty when you’re delivered a set that includes a triumphant ‘Never Stop’, a lung bursting ‘Lips Like Sugar’, where the sublime ‘The Killing Moon’ is followed by a full forced ‘The Cutter’ and it’s all topped with a cherry of a finale with ‘Ocean Rain’.
The crystal light of tonight’s show has been somewhat dulled by its ebb and flow and faux-shamanic shenanigans. Like a SuperMacs (or should that be McDonalds) quarter pounder there’s too much stodge that detracts from the prime and ultimately that’s what prevents a good gig from being a great one. These songs and its creators deserve better. Next time, please just spare us the clutter.
Echo & The Bunnymen photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko