Echo and The Bunnymen review by Ryan Beardsley
The Royal Albert Hall, now there’s a venue I didn’t see myself being invited to in this lifetime. The hallowed ground is still warm from the Last Night of the Proms earlier this month but tonight it’s a very different type of show, one that I imagine King Charles would not approve of.
Echo and the Bunnymen, Merseyside’s post-punk goth poets have descended on London and they haven’t come alone, the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is in tow for a recital of 1984’s seminal Ocean Rain and the brightest stars of stage and screen are in attendance. Well, I say stars, I saw the bloke who wrote Trainspotting, and Professor Lupin out of Harry Potter was there too so go figure.
The indefatigable Ian McCulloch and fellow founding member and guitarist Will Sergeant are supported by a significant backing band as we get two shows in one, the first half is a collection of fan favourites mostly from 1980’s debut album Crocodiles. There’s also time for 1997’s lost Britpop era comeback track Nothing Lasts Forever, a welcome treat that merges midway into a Lou Reed homage, McCulloch pretty much has the perfect drawl for a Reed cover version.
After a brief interval, the main course of Ocean Rain is served, an album that McCulloch himself still attests to as the greatest record ever – “I go by my original story – greatest album ever made. It’s incredible, beautiful.” I mean I wouldn’t go that far Ian but it’s definitely in my top 50 records, I’m sure he’s delighted with such an accolade.
I didn’t think it was possible but Nocturnal Me sounds even bigger live than on record. A song that has reentered the conscious after featuring in Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things and judging by some of the younger faces in the crowd, the epic ballad was a gateway drug for all things Bunnymen.
The jangly guitar opening heralds The Killing Moon, an obsession for any thirty-something who watched Donnie Darko for the first time as an adolescent. As if it couldn’t get any more epic, the presence of the classical orchestra enhances the chorus to almost biblical proportions.
McCulloch is chatty throughout, regaling the audience with what I can only assume are witty anecdotes but I can barely understand a word the man is saying through his thick scouse accent, and I’m a Northerner so God knows what the locals could make out. I did pick up a reference to Russell Brand where I think a derogatory statement was made, it was met with a combination of boos and cheers so God alone knows, subtitles next time, please.
During a suitably epic finale with the self-titled album closer, McCulloch is able to do it justice despite some clear modern-day limitations to his voice, he belts out the gothic ballad to deliver a real goosebumps moment that has the auditorium holding its breath.
We get an added treat of an extended encore culminating in mainstream breakthrough The Cutter, a 1983 top ten hit that still feels fresh and exciting today, so much so that one over-excited lady who might be old enough to know better, climbs up for a one-woman stage invasion before she is the victim of the politest ‘ejection’ I have ever seen at a gig, I wonder if the Albert Hall security has ever had to do that before…