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Music review: Echo and the Bunnymen/02 Academy Liverpool

In between McCulloch's ramblings there's still a stunningly good band trying to get out, says Mike Chapple

Published on December 21st 2009.

Music review: Echo and the Bunnymen/02 Academy Liverpool

THE Bunnymen, to confirm the opinion of belligerent front man and uber ego Ian McCulloch, were once the finest live band in the world.

The surly McCulloch is not exactly blessed with any sprinkling of the jovial Santa sparkle of a cuddly Roy Wood or Noddy Holder. This is especially true of the infamous between-songs banter which has become increasingly bizarre and unintelligible over the years

My own confirmation of this stretches back to a night at the Birmingham Odeon, as a Liverpudlian in exile wrapped up in my oversized Crombie against the cold of a late autumn, 1985. The band, introduced by the eerie trademark soundtrack of a booming Gregorian Chant, wandered out of the swirls of dry ice to produce a performance of majesty beneath the stars.

Yes, in those halcyon days with drummer Pete De Freitas, bassist Les Pattinson and Will Sergeant on shimmering guitar they actually played before a stunning ocean blue backdrop of artificial stars and satellites.

The effect was such that near the gig's climax, when Mac crooned the band's masterpiece The Killing Moon, one could palpably feel the collective scalp of the audience rise up as high as the uberego's Spiny Norman haircut in a shiver of ecstasy.

"Wow!" said the girlfriend of the time with a look of genuine wonder in her eyes which she'd never reserved for me, alas."What was that!"

What was that, indeed.

Since then the girl has settled down into domestic bliss - with someone else, naturally - poor old Pete and Jake Brockman have tragically since slipped off this mortal coil and, for all I know, Les is back building boats somewhere in West Lancs – although he did reappear with The Wild Swans earlier this year.

Which leaves just Mac and his faithful Sarge.

They've endured a chequered career in the 25 years since. But while never really returning to the golden days of yore they never quite lost that sheen of hip, cultish quality that keeps them popular with the following that didn't go away and, in turn, attracts a new brigade of the curious. This has included any number of bands who have borrowed the Bunnymen template without coming near to even tying their bootstrings - something the waspish Mac is never slow to point out, the hapless Bloc Party being the latest bunch destined for a chinning next time he sees them.

The point is though, and to unashamedly borrow a line from one of their greats, The Cutter, can they still cut the mustard?

Well on this showing - the last of three sell-out nights at the 02 Academy to celebrate Christmas back on home ground - the answer is a definite affirmative.

The Academy is one of our better venues and a suss choice for a stint such as this. Despite its resemblance to an aircraft hangar, the acoustics are surprisingly good, the bars are ample and well staffed, the security, firm but amiable.

Which all set the stall for a great Saturday night out, a festive singalong with some of the old favourites although the surly McCulloch is not exactly blessed with any sprinkling of the jovial Santa sparkle of a cuddly Roy Wood or Noddy Holder. This is especially true of the infamous between-songs banter which has become increasingly bizarre and unintelligible over the years.

Just what is the old misery moo jabbering on about - and what is getting his goat so much? The only explanation must be another miserable performance by his beloved Reds earlier in the day, something which gleeful Bluenoses in the crowd were eager to delight in.

But whereas the spoken words were an apparent nonsense, the same could not be said for the now-not-so-Spiny's One's singing voice, which is probably at the finest it has ever been.

This may be partly due to the absence of the once perpetual ciggie that used to hang from the mic stand and which has now gone the way of all butts in this fag-free environment. Whatever, it's never sounded better. From the opener Rescue - surely one of the most immaculately self aware pieces of pop ever written - through the aforementioned Cutter and on to a triple whammy ending of Nothing Lasts Forever, Over The Wall, and Lips Like Sugar, the voice of vintage years Macca was careering effortlessly through the scales supported by a backing band of acolytes Nick, Jez, Ste and Gordi (is that right Mr Mixer Man at the sound desk?).

And so to The Sarge.

Well those glistening shards of chords still sound as uniquely awesome as ever, especially when combined with a spectacular bombast of strobe and dazzling explosions of light, as in the case of All That Jazz.

In between there were a couple of newer compositions thrown in which could become favourites in time.

But for tonight it was marvellous to wallow in the legacy of the Bunnymen, something which McCulloch was recently quoted as saying was "not a nostalgia trip but about playing, cool great, timeless music."

And you know what? Old Big 'Ead is right.

9/10: An Echo worth a look at.

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Tony BaloneyDecember 21st 2009.

Absolutely fantastic night on Friday the 18th watching the best band in the world live.His voice is better than ever and Les is still the Les of old, truly amazing. If I'd have died in my sleep at the Adelphi on Friday/Saturday morning I would have died a very happy man.See you next year boy's.

JellyDecember 21st 2009.

Great review from a great writer. Keep 'em coming.

Voice of experienceDecember 21st 2009.

Tony Baloney, Les is definitely NOT in the Bunnymen!

DigDecember 21st 2009.

The Les of old eh? Did you go to the right gig Tony? The only time Les has performed recently was with The Wild Swans. Although one of the Bunnymens groupies is an old Les. Maybe you was thinking about her.

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