I didn’t live through the post-punk era of the late 70s, but last night’s Echo and the Bunnymen show at the Warfield made me wish I had. The night wasn’t a perfectly preserved slice of the past, but it was a raggedly beautiful echo of an era gone by.
The band played through their first two albums, Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here, pulling their audience deep into the post-punk genre that once belonged to the Bunnymen. This decision alone was risky; the audience probably would have been more comfortable with a run-through of the band’s compilation album, Songs to Learn and Sing, which features the band’s most well-known work. But running through the first two albums in entirety gave the set a sense of direction and purpose that it otherwise might have lacked, as frontman Ian McCullough struggled to connect with his audience.
“I’m feeling giggly. I just can’t stop giggling,” McCullough growled into his mic, face obscured by shadow, sunglasses, and dramatic flashing lights. Prowling the shadowy stage with a cigarette in hand, McCullough continuously demanded that his mic reverb be turned off, though chain-smoking on stage was not doing his aged voice any favors.
Bass player Stephen Brannan helped with the higher vocal part on A Promise, though McCullough was able to sing the rest of the set without too much difficulty; in fact, his older, grittier voice often complimented the dark and introverted songs of the Bunnymen’s early work. Forgetting the lyrics to one song, he paid tribute to Lou Reed by rallying the audience into a singalong of Wild Side. He often stopped singing altogether, taking a minute (or several) to chat with his audience, growling unintelligibly into the mic while the band patiently played in the background.
In fact, the men in the background were the most impressive part of the night. Guitarist Will Sargeant quietly stole the show with his understated but powerful guitar playing, especially in Rescue and Turquoise Days. Drummer Nicholas Kirlroe had his moment on drum-heavy All My Colours. Seamless transitions and artful back-and-forths made it obvious that the band had been playing together for years. By the end of the night, I was ready to listen to the band jam without vocals at all.
The band’s most raw and real moment came in the second set with The Disease. McCullough’s raspy voice was perfectly fitting for the tormented and moody song. The band sank into a comfortable and murky groove which finally captured its audience and pervaded the rest of the set.
The encore predictably began with a rough version of what McCullough declared to be “the best song in the world”: The Killing Moon. Not satisfied with how the Bunnymen favorite sounded, McCullough stopped the song midway and demanded that the band start over – though their second try didn’t sound any different from the first. Unable or unwilling to sing, McCullough had his fans sing the well-known lyrics for him in a dark and unified chorus. However, the Bunnymen redeemed themselves in their final song, The Cutter, reminding us all what made us love the them in the first place.
If Echo & the Bunnymen are a shadow of their former experimental post-punks selves, it’s a shadow that’s living, breathing, and passionately clinging to the vital remnants of an era that doesn’t deserve to end.