Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Echo & The Bunnymen at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto
Frank YangSince the schedule for SxSW was announced way back in March, I had one particular showcase circled and immutable on my schedule – Echo & The Bunnymen at Rusty Spurs on the Saturday night. One of the perks of attending SxSW is the opportunity to see big bands in venues much smaller than they’d normally play, and though the Liverpool legends were playing some bigger shows during the festival, the opportunity to see them for the first time in a tiny Texan gay cowboy bar was too good to pass up. And while that show was fine, it was a mild disappointment relative to my tremendous expectations. I had somehow wanted an arena-scale show in a club-scale setting (even though Echo & The Bunnymen have never really achieved arena-scale success), and they delivered a good club-scale show. Classic songs for sure, but considering I heard that some of their larger shows during SxSW were epic, I had to think that maybe they were a band who played up – or down – to their environs.
From that point of view, it followed that this past Tuesday night’s show at the very proper Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto would be something special and the promise of an orchestrally-enhanced reading of the band’s highwater mark Ocean Rain all but clinched it. It had to be a fantastic show – it promised too much to not be, and considering the high ticket price, the 1000 or so folks in attendance would rightfully be expecting one. The show was divided into two sets, the first for “the hits” and the second for the Ocean Rain recital, and the former was largely as advertised, leaning heavily on their early material – their debut Crocodiles comprised a third of the set list – but also including highlights from the post-reunion records. Some might think that pulling two from their latest record The Fountain to be excessive, but the fact is that lead single “I Think I Need It Too” was one of the highlights, not least of all because it was written with lead Bunnyman Ian McCulloch’s reduced vocal range in mind.
Ah yes, the voice – let’s get that out of the way right now. PopMatters is correct when they suggest that Mac’s voice is a rough, gravelly shadow of the magnificent instrument it once was. He can’t hit those notes anymore, occasionally wheezes where once he bellowed and as such, some of those indelible melodies have been rejigged to accommodate the new reality – the chorus of “Bring On The Dancing Horses” now bows where once it soared. But the songs remain as potent as ever and Mac delivered them with a swagger and charisma that went a good way towards compensating for the years – and I mean that vocally, not physically. Echo & The Bunnymen live is a most stationary experience, with McCulloch’s repertoire of stage moves consisting of standing still at the mic, getting a drink of water and occasionally crouching down. But back to the voice – as I mentioned in the review of that show back in March, he still has reserves of that old power that he can tap into at key moments, as he did in the chorus of “The Cutter” and in doing so, by god, turned the clock back a quarter century for a few, brief shining moments.
The reading of Ocean Rain, however, was one sustained 40-minute shining moment. Supported by a 10-piece (I think) string section, Echo & The Bunnymen made a fine case for it as one of the best records of the ’80s and anyone hearing “Silver”, rendered as majestically as it was on this night, would have great difficulty coming up with an argument against it. It’s true that strings applied injudiciously can render songs cheesy or overly pompous, but here they were just perfect – if anything, they made me wish for more and wonder what these shows must have sounded like with full orchestras at the Royal Albert Hall or Radio City Music Hall. Performing in front of projected black and white images of the band in their youth, their crystal days, the proceedings had a lovely, elegiac tone and felt as much like a tribute from McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant to their former bandmates, the retired Les Pattinson and late Pete De Freitas. If there was any complaint, it was that the suite ran too short but the record clocks in at under 40 minutes – there’s not a lot that can be done about that, short of calling for an impromptu orchestra jam and no one wants that.
Though they could have justifiably called it a night after that – there’s no way to top the album’s title track as a finale – they still returned for a two-song encore, finally ending the almost two-hour show (including intermission) with “Lips Like Sugar”. Finally, this was the grand, epic Echo & The Bunnymen show I’d been hoping to see. If you get the chance to see them, choose the grandest venue possible and if they promise to bring the strings, don’t dare miss it.
The Toronto Sun, Chartattack, Exclaim and eye have reviews of the show while The National Post considers the trend of bands performing classic albums in their entirety, using Echo & The Bunnymen as a case study. You can also grab a track from the new record over at RCRDLBL, in addition to the one linked below.
And yes, the photos from the show are nigh pointless – Mac hates light, and the folly of it all was compounded by having to shoot from the back of the theatre. But that’s okay, I got him good back in Austin to check those out if you want to see how well he’s aged.
Photos: Echo & The Bunnymen @ The Queen Elizabeth Theatre – October 20, 2009
MP3: Echo & The Bunnymen – “I Think I Need It Too”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “The Killing Moon”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “Bedbugs & Ballyhoo”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “The Cutter”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “The Game”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “Seven Seas”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “Bring On The Dancing Horses”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “In The Margins”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “It’s Alright”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “Back Of Love”
Video: Echo & The Bunnymen – “Lips Like Sugar”
MySpace: Echo & The Bunnymen
Out digitally this month in line with the UK release, Editors’ new one In This Light & On This Evening will get a proper physical North American release on January 19 and will yet-to-be-specified bonus material not available on the UK release. This news comes the day my import of the UK release arrives, of course.
altsounds talks to Charlotte Hatherley about her new record New Worlds. Stereogum also has a new song from the record available to newsletter subscribers and a brief chat with Charlotte about the tune.