Seattle was the fifth stop on Echo & The Bunnymen’s thirteen city tour of the U.S., and from information gleaned via the “interwebz” it appears that every date so far has been sold out. Yeah, they just released their first album of new material in five years – Meteorites, and they haven’t toured the States for a while, but it’s surprising to see the excitement that Echo is generating decades after their last “hit.”
Opening the show was local band Prom Queen, which usually consists of singer/songwriter Celene Ramadan backed by guitar, bass, and drums, but on this night Prom Queen had the stage to herself. With her Priscilla Presley-esque circa 1968 quaff, poofy 1955 prom dress, and rhinestone-studded acoustic guitar, Prom Queen shone like a diamond on the black stage. Ramadan explained that the reason she was opening for Echo was because the band had heard her version of their song “Nocturnal Me” (from the 1984 Ocean Rain LP) and liked it so much that they invited her to open. She exuded confidence, and her well-written, clever songs were well-received by the crowd. Prom Queen’s last record, the self-released Night Sound, is available here.
By the time Echo took the stage, the Showbox was a hotbox, and instead of starting their set with a beloved classic, they opted to open with the title track from their new record, Meteorites. It was good to see Bunnymen co-founder Ian McCulloch again, wearing a thick jacket and sunglasses. “Hello Seattle,” he deadpanned between sips of his favorite beverage. The opening notes of “Rescue” had the crowd jumping, and the next hour-and-a-half was a time capsule for anyone who has been following Echo & The Bunnymen since they debuted in 1980.
The current Bunnymen line-up was a tight and efficient unit. Will Seargent – the only other original member – stood to McCullough’s right, hunched over his guitar like a mad scientist, plucking out the well-crafted melodies that make so many Echo songs memorable. To McCulloch’s left was the wiry Gordy Goudie on rhythm guitar, doling out the slash and angst that had many categorizing the band as punk in their early years. Looking like he’d just finished playing bass on the recording session for “Itchycoo Park” was Stephen Brannan. Sporting a “mod” hairdo that the Gallagher Brothers would be proud of, and a thigh-length paisley jacket, Brannan handled his bass with efficient precision. Filling out the band were the ethereal Jez Wing on keyboards, and the stalwart Nick Kilroe on drums.
Any true fan of Echo and the Bunnymen had to be thrilled with the set list. “Do It Clean,” “Never Stop,” “All My Colours,” and “Over the Wall” were played note-for-note, and McCulloch’s voice – though slightly aged – sounded clear and perfect.
After having played the third song from the new record, the pleasant “Constantinople,” McCulloch glanced down at the set list and noted, “Oh, this next song is really good. And so is the next one. And so is the next one, and so is the one after that.” Brannan’s rumbling bass and Kilroe’s pounding snare kicked off “All That Jazz” – the intense Gang of Four-esque track from Echo’s debut album, Crocodiles.
The crowd sing-along started organically during their thirteenth song, “Bring On the Dancing Horses.” McCulloch seemed surprised as the audience chimed in during the chorus, but the fans were just getting warmed up. The next two songs, “The Killing Moon,” and “The Cutter,” had everyone at the Showbox singing, and McCulloch backed off of the mic several times to let the audience handle the vocal chores.
Coming out for their first encore, the band chose the relatively obscure 1997 track “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which then morphed into Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side,” the Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down,” Wilson Picket’s “In the Midnight Hour,” and then back to Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby.” Then they launched into “Lips Like Sugar,” which put an end to the in-memoriam schizophrenia.
A second encore was demanded by the Showbox throngs, and McCulloch sang the haunting “Ocean Rain” before sending the damp crowd into the streets. When Echo and the Bunnymen played at the Peppermint Lounge in NYC in the mid-1980s, during the band’s encore McCulloch proclaimed they were “the second best band in the history of rock and roll, and would like to do a song by the best band in the history of rock and roll.” They then played a ten minute version of the Velvet Underground classic, “Heroin.”
While maybe not the second best band in the history of rock and roll, after thirty-five years Echo & The Bunnymen are still a great band with good songs, and on this hot August night at the Showbox they showed no signs of becoming a 1980s nostalgia act.