Saturday, August 16, 2014

Echo & the Bunnymen at Irving Plaza

Ian McCulloch
Ian McCulloch was born in Liverpool, England, and as a teenager integrated into the local music scene at Eric's Club. Upon turning 18, the budding singer-songwriter formed his first band, the Crucial Three, with Julian Cope and Pete Wylie, but the band never got beyond rehearsals. Wylie left, the band split, and a year later in 1978 McCulloch and Cope formed the short-lived A Shallow Madness, which similarly never recorded or performed. Cope then sacked McCulloch from the band, A Shallow Madness changed its name to The Teardrop Explodes, and McCulloch joined with guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson to form Echo & the Bunnymen in 1978. Supplemented initially by a drum machine, Echo & the Bunnymen soon debuted at Eric's Club as the opening act for The Teardrop Explodes. Since Echo & the Bunnymen's debut album in 1980, the band has released 11 studio albums; after a five-year hiatus, the fan-funded Meteorites was released on June 3, 2014. McCulloch and Sergeant presently fill out Echo & the Bunnymen with touring musicians.

Echo & the Bunnymen returned to Irving Plaza tonight for the first of a two-night headlining engagement. As usual, McCulloch stood at his microphone stand and remained almost motionless throughout the concert, bathed in darkness. Never was a spotlight shone on him, making photographs a challenge. The band opened with the title track of the new album, and McCulloch, wearing dark pants, shirt, sports jacket, shades and unkempt hair, appeared as a silhouette singing dark, brooding vocals. His Jim Morrison-style of singing became more evident with a medley of "Rescue" and "Broke My Neck." Three songs later, he sang the Doors' "People Are Strange." It was this voice on which the show centered, more so than any of the musicians' contributions. New songs were received well, including "Holy Moses" and "Constantinople," but 36 years into its stage life, the show built up to the haunting, synthesizer-driven "Bring on the Dancing Horses," a bombastic medley of "Villiers Terrace" and the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," a lighter "The Killing Moon" and a harsher "The Cutter." For the first encore, the band joined a soft, acoustic "Nothing Lasts Forever" to adaptations of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour." The show ended with the better known "Lips Like Sugar" in extended form and a modest final encore of "Ocean Rain." The classic drama-pop masters kept the music alive and energetic, and despite McCulloch's subdued visual appearance, his voice was what made it all interesting.

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