Echo & the Bunnymen at the Nokia Theater, Oct. 24.
Seeing a maddeningly underrated and undervalued band like Echo & the Bunnymen is a good way to keep the ears and soul in check, especially the day before a cold front from Dublin swoops in to take over all of SoCal, and to remind us who pays for The Edge's beanies and Bono's shades.
Sure, singer Ian McCulloch and company tour every few years and are no strangers to gigging in L.A. But getting to hear them perform the entirety of the 1984 classic Ocean Rain with a live orchestra in a larger-than-usual venue like the No-taking pictures please-kia Theater is a bit more enticing.
A strings-and-horns section led by a conductor may not be very rock 'n' roll, but Echo & the Bunnymen, who've only made previous stops in London, New York and Oakland for this tour, have never been about paired-down post-punk. And Ocean Rain sees the band at its most grandiose. After the theater's announcer asked us to take our seats — how very polite — the group entered the stage for the first of two sets, playing the album track by track, from the opener “Silver” to the thunderous nighttime ode “Nocturnal Me” to the beautifully-strummed ditty “My Kingdom.” While the Asian-inspired “The Killing Moon,” one of their U.S. hits, was never a personal favorite (you can find a killer version recorded live in 1984, however, on the album's 2003 reissue), “The Yo-Yo Man” starts off with Echo & the Bunnymen's hookiest lyrics: “Froze to the bone in my igloo home.”
It was during this first half that two life-size screens projected what seemed like an entire retrospective of beautiful early black-and-white shots (yes, McCulloch's dome hair hasn't changed much), including ones of original drummer Pete DeFreitas, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989, as well as Ocean Rain's cover art designed by Martyn Atkins, the man behind Joy Division's Closer and Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses. This might've been distracting if it weren't for finicky McCulloch's penchant for performing in near darkness, with only blue and green lights bouncing off him, original guitarist and founder Will Sergeant, and new members Gordy Goudie, Stephen Brannan, Jez Wing and Nick Kilroe. The orchestra were tucked in the back and barely visible, even from our second-row seats.
Watching McCulloch, wearing sunglasses and swigging bear, can be frustrating and funny. He mutters in almost incomprehensible Liverpudlian, making Liam Gallagher and Stone Roses' Ian Brown sound like elocution teachers. He repeatedly asked “is Billy Crystal here?”; warned us he had “a potential hiccup”; and called Wolverhampton “a shit town.” Never been, but if he says so.
After intermission — more politeness — the band returned for the second set to play a mix of best hits, from early songs going back to 1980's Crocodiles to newer material off their current tenth studio album, The Fountain; plus, a sprinkling of covers, including The Doors' “Roadhouse Blues” and a not-so-faithful version of Lou Reed's “Walk on the Wild Side,” which McCulloch changed to “walk on the Merseyside.”
Anyone who was there early enough might've noticed Hole's “Celebrity Skin” included in the pre-show's songs. Courtney Love has been professing her amour for the band for decades, even thanking them in the liner notes to Celebrity Skin, which begs the question: Why aren't they playing the Rose Bowl? Helping a notorious nut bag like Love is a far more dire cause than trying to eliminate poverty.
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