Friday, October 31, 2003

Concert Review: Echo & the Bunnymen, the Stills, Metro, Chicago, October 29

Consider the Who and Echo & the Bunnymen. Both lost their drummers to tragic, early deaths. Both continue to tour despite being down to just their original singers and lead guitarists and apparently past their creative prime. As their frontmen find diminishing interest in their solo careers, soldiering on with the band could be interpreted as desperate cash-in on nostalgia. The difference is that Echo & the Bunnymen still make their songs sound vital. Any doubts I had as to whether Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant and the four new guys (bass, rhythm guitar, drums and keyboards) are still worth seeing were immediately replaced by the shivers up my spine.

The newer songs lack the jagged edges that  make their '80s output so much more intriguing, but they were mainly trotting out the old hits and the old obscurities. The tour is in celebration of the band's 25th reunion; in December, Rhino will be reissuing remastered versions of their first five albums. The ones with the memorable, moving songs. The ones before Pete de Freitas died and McCulloch embarked on a solo career. The good ones.

I've given up on their playing anything from the underrated Electrafixion, Sergeant and McCulloch's precursor to the Bunnymen reunion, and they passed on the driving "Do It Clean." But what they did include was inspired. "Crocodiles," "Rescue, "Lips Like Sugar," "The Killing Mind." One encore included a localized cover of  "Walk on the Wild Side," rhyming "Chicago" and "Metro." They closed with "Ocean Rain." McCulloch started with a nearly-whispered delivery, Sergeant eventually came in with a searing guitar line. By the time McCulloch finally went for the high notes at the song's close it was orgasmic.

One of the great mysteries in life, one which I have given up on every figuring out, is what the hell Ian McCulloch is saying between songs. I've been left befuddled at numerous venues with otherwise clear sound systems, so the problem has to be a semi-indecipherable Liverpudlian accent combined with a tendency to mumble except when singing.

As for opening act the Stills, they've been compared to the Chameleons and Echo & the Bunnymen, but I just kept wondering when Gay Dad changed their name.

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