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Echo & the Bunnymen's Psychedelic Flashback at the Orpheum: Concert Review

Echo & the Bunnymen - H - 2014
Steve Appleford

The Bottom Line

'80s stalwarts do it in the dark and evoke spirits from the past.

Venue

The Orpheum Theatre
Los Angeles
(Friday, Aug. 1)

The Liverpudlian combo's 90-minute set Friday night included their greatest hits and obscurities.

During Echo & the Bunnymen's 90-minute set Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre, singer Ian McCulloch evoked the spirits of Jim Morrison, James Brown, Lou Reed, Nat King Cole and Wilson Pickett by including snippets of their famous songs in the middle of the Bunnymen's own classics.

Some might argue that the '80s stalwarts don't deserve a place next to such esteemed company, but McCulloch wouldn't be one of them. The Bunnymen frontman, once dubbed "Mac the Mouth" by the British press, is his own biggest fan known for spouting off such pronouncements as calling the band's "The Killing Moon" "the greatest song ever written" and saying that in the Bunnymen's prime, "It felt like we were the best band in the world."

At times Friday night the Bunnymen came close to McCulloch's lofty aspirations. Performing as a sextet with guitarist Will Sergeant as the only other original member, the band played a set of their greatest hits and obscurities, but true to McCulloch's supreme confidence, they opened not with a familiar song, but the title track from their new album, Meteorites. With McCulloch's aching and longing vocals and Sergeant's tasteful guitar figures, it didn't sound unlike past Bunnymen classics. But the crowd didn't fully light up until the band ripped into "Rescue," from their 1980 debut Crocodiles, and followed that up with "Villiers Terrance" from the same set.

In the latter song, McCulloch pulled out the first of many tributes as the band shifted into a partial version of the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues." A few songs later, the band performed their own "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo," complete with Ray Manzarek-styled keyboards, and later did a full version of "People Are Strange," which they recorded for the 1987 teen vampire flick The Lost Boys, with Manzarek manning the board.

It being L.A., perhaps it was fitting that the Doors received the most attention, but they weren't the only greats from the past the McCulloch acknowledged. During "Do It Clean," another one of the band's stunning early tracks, McCulloch broke into James Brown's "Sex Machine," which worked great with the rhyme scheme. His foray into Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love" moments later, wasn't as smooth, but somehow it all fell back into place when he and the band revved up the Bunnymen original.

During the encore, the Bunnymen's "Nothing Lasts Forever," from the band's 1997 comeback album Evergreen, segued into snippets of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour."

All the cover snippets were an entertaining diversion, but the Bunnymen don't really need to rely on anyone else's material aside from their own. "Holy Moses," another song for their recently released album, stood up well against the older material, with bassist Ste Brannan providing a nice counter vocal to McCulloch's. The band really hit its stride late in the set with a triple shot of "Bring on the Dancing Horses," "The Killing Moon" and "The Cutter," with the first two tunes showcasing the band's elegant, majestic sound and the latter highlighted by Sergeant's aggressive Middle Eastern-flavored guitar riffs.

Although he's not an animated performer, McCulloch commanded the dimly lit stage with his presence alone, offering sly comments between songs in his thick British accent and sexing up lyrics on occasion ("I never thought they do those things from "Villiers Terrance" became "pull my thing" and "up in your arms" from "The Killing Moon" was changed into "up in your legs.").

Closing the set with one of their biggest hits, "Lips Like Sugar," featuring more of Sergeant's chiming signature guitar lines, followed by the elegiac "Ocean Rain," the Bunnymen once again stated the claim for consideration with the greats of all time, not just merely an '80s flashback.

Set List

Meteorites
Rescue
Villierss Terrace/Roadhouse Blues
Holy Moses
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
Seven Seas
Constantinople
Never Stop
People Are Strange
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Do It Clean
New Horizons
Bring on the Dancing Horses
The Killing Moon
The Cutter

Encore

Nothing Lasts Forever/Walk on the Wild Side/The Midnight Hour
Lips Like Sugar
Ocean Rain