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Review: Echo & the Bunnymen @ Bristol O2 Academy

I don’t normally get ID’d at the O2. But buying a drink in a crowd of overwhelmingly middle-aged folk, I did. My friends say I have the same music taste as their dads, and it seems they’re right.

By Mia Smith, Music editor

I don’t usually get ID’d at the O2. But buying a drink in a crowd of overwhelmingly middle-aged folk, I did. My friends say I have the same music taste as their dads, and it seems they’re right.

But the Echo & The Bunnymen crowd seemed glad to see some younger faces, pleased that a new generation continues to carry the new-wave mantle. The band were one of the seminal groups born from the post-punk scene of the 80s, and frontman Ian McCulloch looks like he’s still there. He wears his signature long coat that’s slightly too big for him, sunglasses, and his hair is still tousled.

Before the band arrives, the set kicks off with a DJ set from Alan McGee, which was interesting. McGee is somewhat of an industry legend - former record label owner, manager and musician. But now he sits in the corner of the O2 with his coat on, occasionally pressing a button to play some Velvet Underground tracks. And a lot of David Bowie. He says nothing, and is shortly led off stage by someone wielding a torch.

Smoke keeps rolling across the stage, but the band are still nowhere to be seen. They’re almost an hour late; someone in the crowd shouts ‘hurry the f*** up’, and everyone else starts booing. McCulloch eventually appears, strolling through blue lights and echoing choral hymns. His sunglasses seem to be not just an extended bit but actually practical - the light show throughout is impressive: moody, strobing and perfectly in time with each hit of the drums.  

McCulloch is completely static in comparison. But he’s still oddly intoxicating to watch, gripping the microphone with both hands that poke from beneath his oversized sleeves. He shares the occasional anecdote between songs, but I never quite catch what he’s saying. His voice is gravelly and tired: he’s either drunk, has a sore throat, or is maybe just too scouse.    

His singing voice thankfully still possesses its unique gothic charm, and he begins with ‘Going Up’: the first track from the band’s first album ‘Crocodiles’. And it does go up from there; the crowd’s frustration at the band’s lateness is quickly forgotten. McCulloch leans into the older end of their oeuvre, sticking to classic crowdpleasers like ‘Seven Seas’ and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’. He leans back from the mic to let the crowd sing, and it’s sweet to see the crowd transported back to their youth.

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There’s a palpable tension throughout the set as we wait to hear ‘The Killing Moon’. McCulloch once told the Guardian that it was the ‘greatest song ever written’, and he’s objectively right. The band predictably save it for the encore, but once they return, they play ‘The Cutter’ instead. They leave the stage again, and then it’s time. McCulloch seems slightly begrudging, but grateful: ‘It’s not an encore song, but I love it like you do’. It still sounds good - it's truly eternal. They try for a third encore, ‘Ocean Rain’, but half the crowd is gone, thinking the gig was over.

Echo & the Bunnymen kept us waiting, and I’m not entirely sure it was worth it. I have to hand it to McCulloch for performing pretty decently aged 62, and the gig was no doubt special for fans seeing him again after decades. I just wish I’d been alive to see them in the 80s.

Featured image: Mia Smith

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