Gig Review by Simon Saynor with Photography by John Hayhurst

Echo & the Bunnymen amble into York for the last night of the UK leg of the tour promoting new album ‘The Stars, The Ocean & The Moon’. As the title suggests (Stars Are Stars, Ocean Rain, The Killing Moon) the album is a reworking of old Bunnymen favourites (plus two new tracks), carefully picked by Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, the songs are given a more stripped back ethereal quality. It seems to have split the hardcore fanbase, in particular the transformation of ‘The Killing Moon’ into a piano and strings led ballad but it works. It really works. It’s also a brave move but over a forty year career The Bunnymen have never really played by the rules.

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Tonight the band are in full rock out mode though. McCulloch, all leather jacket, shades and swagger, owes more to the US West Coast than the UK North West Coast. When other Liverpool bands were tapping into The Beatles heritage The Bunnymen were listening at the feet of The Lizard King. He rarely moves from behind his microphone in what would seem a show of arrogance from other front men. Ian McCulloch makes it iconic.

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They open with ‘Going Up’, serious old school Bunnymen, from debut album, 1980’s ‘Crocodiles’. It’s a 17 song set ranging from ‘Crocodiles’ tracks up to ‘The Somnambulist’, one of the new tracks from the latest album and a song destined to be a live favourite. There are pockets of people dancing throughout the Barbican. It’s an odd venue for that, they don’t discourage you to stand but you’re firmly ushered into an aisle to throw some shapes. Still, the dancers were loving it, the ones who decided to remain seated were loving it, the reviewer who was aware that his 6’5” frame may annoy the people sat behind if he stood, rocked and clapped and sang in his seat so much that the whole row of seats shook (much to the tutting annoyance of the lady sat next to him). Still, way before the end of the gig everyone was stood. Third song in is their first charting single, ‘Rescue’ which really gets the crowd going. Highlight from the opening numbers for me though is ‘All My Colours (Zimbo)’ from 2001’s four CD compilation ‘Crystal Days 1979 – 1999. It’s also a track off the new album and whereas most of the tracks off ‘The Stars, The Ocean & The Moon’ are given their original treatment (with a slight nod to the reworkings in some cases) ‘Zimbo’ seems to be a merger of both the original and the new version. It is truly, jaw-droppingly magnificent.

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The band are on fire (admittedly the amount of dry ice being used made Will Sergeant look like he was literally on fire at one point), the lighting is minimal (4 spots at the back, a chandelier and a mirror ball) but it gives the gig a wonderfully intimate feel. You get the feeling you’re attending something very special. “Sing this if you know it. You will know it’, McCulloch declares before a joyful ‘Seven Seas’, “The chorus is yours” he tells us before ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’. It may not be glaringly obvious but Ian is having a belting time up there. Then all too soon the saw like opening of ‘The Cutter’ kicks in. I’d heard someone say pre gig it was the final song of the set. Gutted. It is an absolute triumph though. McCulloch’s voice still as dark and brooding as it has always been. Will Sergeant can still make his guitar emit noises that are probably illegal in some American states. The climatic ending of ‘The Cutter’ tears The Barbican apart.

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I know there’s gonna be encores but I want another full set. ‘The Killing Moon’ kicks off the encores. It’s a modern day classic. It’s as simple as that. Any songwriter would give anything to write a song this stunning. The venue is awash with smiling faces singing with all their heart. It’s a moment. An epic ‘Lips Like Sugar’ follows, McCulloch’s voice soaring around the pounding drums and bass as Sergeant’s guitar continues to wail. It’s an opus. They leave us again only to return for a bonus ‘Ocean Rain’. ‘We don’t play this often’, it is in fact only the second time it got an outing on this tour. It is simply beautiful.

Echo & the Bunnymen are as mesmerizingly brilliant as they have ever been. Long may they continue.

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Set List
Going Up
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
Rescue
Never Stop
All That Jazz
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Over The Wall
The Somnambulist
Villiers Terrace
Nothing Lasts Forever
Seven Seas
Rust
Bring On the Dancing Horses
The Cutter
Encore:
The Killing Moon
Lips Like Sugar
Encore 2:
Ocean Rain

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