Saturday night at First Avenue, Echo & the Bunnymen made what could have been a fantastic, flawless pass through town, but bogged it down. There were a couple of strange passages and two Doors cover songs. One of them made a little bit of sense, but the other felt tacked on and outright terrible. The night was a whiplash-inducing rollercoaster to say the least. It was filled with highs, but the lows were almost low enough to cause pressure sickness. See also: Slideshow: Echo & the Bunnymen at First Ave[jump]
The night began in grand fashion with "Meteorites," from their new album of the same name, and "Rescue" from their 1980 debut, Crocodiles. The pairing of the two songs highlighted that lead singer Ian McCullough and company have not wavered much from their brand of goth-soaked, punk-dusted new wave. They've put together some fantastic rock songs over 35-odd years.
Things quickly got a bit dicey, however, with "Do It Clean," as they mixed a snippet of James Brown's "Sex Machine" into the chorus, which had been thoroughly Bunny-ized and was overall just a little odd. After a resurgent "Never Stop" from 1983's Porcupine, the show ground nearly to a halt when they covered the Doors' "People Are Strange," recorded for the Lost Boys soundtrack in 1987. Theirs is a bad version of a song that's pretty bad to begin with and it made for a tedious few minutes right as the show should have been clicking into autopilot.
The band finally revved things up with "Seven Seas," "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo" (a highlight of the set), and a fiery version of "Holy Moses." With the show nearly half over, it seemed, just for a moment, that the band would keep digging up 35 years of gems, one by one. The 2014 version of Echo & the Bunnymen seem unable to get out of their own way, however, and they dropped the show down a couple of notches with an outright sloppy version of "All My Colours." They recovered a bit with "Over the Wall" and the newly minted (and fairly great) "Constantinople."
The concussion-inducing antics continued as "All That Jazz" and "Bring On the Dancing Horses" clocked in as passable. Again, they elected to wander in to mash-up/medley territory by combining the b-side "Villiers Terrace" with the worst Doors song ever recorded, "Roadhouse Blues." The latter's utter awfulness overshadowed the former's tentacled atmospherics. The show, which eventually clocked in at about 85 minutes, was starting to get a bit long in the tooth, but the band wrapped it up neatly and powerfully with "The Killing Moon." The song is as haunting today as it was in 1984. Then, "The Cutter," which is far and away their best song and was easily the best of the bunch Saturday. [page]
They came out for an encore after several minutes and lot of shouting from the crowd and offered up another medley that featured "Nothing Lasts Forever," Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," "Don't Let Me Down," and "In the Midnight Hour." It was the most interesting medley of the night, but it still served to slow things down and drag the show on longer than needed -- definitely something nobody is looking for in an encore. They left the stage for good after a mind-bogglingly great version of "Lips Like Sugar," another highlight of the night. After all was said and done, it was a good if terribly confusing and poorly paced set.
It was fun to see, but wasn't can't-miss. For what Echo & the Bunnymen's own songs have the power to do in recorded form, muddying the waters with ill-advised, poorly executed cover songs in a live setting was an egregious error. What could have been a tight, mind-blowing set was bloated and at times a little homely. By the end it felt like eating a perfectly cooked steak but being forced to eat the gristle before being allowed to leave.
Critic's Bias: Echo & the Bunnymen have always been a band that I have liked, not loved. Saturday did little to change that, but it did make me dislike the Doors even more than I already do.
The Crowd: Older and for the most part respectful and reserved, save for the guy who yelled "You're boring!" at opener John Swardson. Bouncers immediately threw him out and it was funny watching a guy in his mid-40s get hauled out of a club.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Another Doors cover? Jesus, why are they doing this?"
Notebook Dump: Their music is a mixture of hope, anguish, and menace, stirred together in a way that, when done right, is eternally intoxicating.
Meteorites Rescue Do It Clean/Sex Machine Never Stop People Are Strange (The Doors cover) Seven Seas Bedbugs and Ballyhoo Holy Moses All My Colors Over the Wall Constantinople All That Jazz Bring On the Dancing Horses Villiers Terrace/Roadhouse Blues (The Doors cover) The Killing Moon The Cutter
Encore: Nothing Lasts Forever/Walk on the Wild Side/Don't Let Me Down/In the Midnight Hour Lips Like SugarGIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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