Live review: Echo & The Bunnymen @ The Sage, Gateshead

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Comprised of vocalist Ian McCulloch, and guitarist Will Sergeant, Echo & The Bunnymen are a new wave post-punk group, who formed 40 years ago in Liverpool. The band were almost instantly loved by fans of the genre, with their 1980 debut album Crocodiles reaching number 17 in the 1980 UK Albums chart. Echo & The Bunnymen broke through to mainstream fame in 1983, with their third studio album, Porcupine, which reached number 2 in the UK album chart and produced the UK top 10 hit ‘The Cutter’. Echo & The Bunnymen’s fourth studio album was released in 1984 and was perhaps their most successful, reaching number 2 in the UK album chart. Ocean Rain has since been regarded as one of the landmark releases of the post-punk genre; it is definitely worth a listen for those who enjoy bands such as Joy Division, Siouxsie, and the Banshees or Bauhaus. The album also spawned the infamous single ‘The Killing Moon’, which many of you may recognise; particularly fans of the film Donnie Darko, as it features prominently in the film, perfectly complimenting its eerie, supernatural atmosphere.

In anticipation of the release of their brand new album The Stars, The Ocean & The Moon, Echo & The Bunnymen returned to stages across the world in May 2018, playing old and new, remastered with a string quartet. I had the pleasure of attending their Gateshead date on 30th May; on the way to the concert, I spoke to some fans who had travelled to Gateshead from Dublin just to see Echo & The Bunnymen, proving that the band’s fanbase is still very much alive and eager to hear their new music.

Echo & The Bunnymen were supported by ENATION, who seemed all too aware that most fans were there only to see the headliners, evidenced by the small turnout (with most fans favouring to stay at the bar in the foyer) and lacklustre energy of their performance. Little effort was put into accommodating the band onstage, so ENATION appeared somewhat squished in front of equipment set up for the headline act. Perhaps these factors gave ENATION an unfair disadvantage in showing what the band was really capable of, however from this performance alone, I would say that whilst they are not untalented, they are little more than a mediocre act, with some promising songs melodically but altogether too repetitive lyrics.

After a short interval, Echo & The Bunnymen took to the stage to begin their 18 song set. The band interspersed classic hits such as “The Killing Moon” and “Seven Seas”, with new tracks such as “How Far?” and “The Somnambulist, all rearranged to include a string quartet. Although this was an exciting prospect in theory, as Echo & The Bunnymen’s music lends itself well to ethereal soundscapes that one might expect when mixing strings and synths, unfortunately, the guitars, drums, and vocals almost entirely drowned the quartet in practice. In addition to this, McCulloch’s voice has not aged as well as one might hope, appearing quite gravelly and rough at times; however, he seemed to have adapted his techniques and style to play to his strengths, which is promising.

It was evident that the majority of the band had relatively low energy, mostly due to age; however, the band attempted to compensate for this with impressive visual effects, such as strobes, lasers, and even chandeliers. Despite some negatives to their performance, the gig was overall a lovely, positive atmosphere to be immersed in, with many people choosing to abandon their seats to dance in the aisles, sing, and even playfully heckle the band. The rapport between the audience and McCulloch was fantastic, seeming more like old friends than an artist and screaming fans.

Overall, my experience of Echo & The Bunnymen at The Sage, Gateshead was very positive; I left feeling uplifted from the joy of those around me. I feel that seeing Echo & The Bunnymen has broadened my experiences of live music, showing how music throughout history has flowed and changed from genre to genre, carrying different features down generations; for example, Echo & The Bunnymen’s music can be considered a continuation and development of the punk movement, as well as a precursor to much of the alternative music which is popular today. To conclude, I would recommend Echo & The Bunnymen, or similarly experienced acts, to those seeking to expand their knowledge and appreciation of music.

Photograph: Ian Cheek Press

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