Echo & the Bunnymen, London Palladium

4.00

If these whole-album playbacks are all about bloodless nostalgia, no one has told Ian McCulloch. During a lull in the title track of tonight's offering, Ocean Rain, he orders the bouncers to turf out a pair of chatty punters for disturbing the contemplative atmosphere.

A jarring reminder, then, that Echo & the Bunnymen's frontman remains the bristling autodidact who brought swagger to an early-Eighties new-wave scene in Liverpool that already brimmed with characters. His band arguably reached their peak with the escapism and aching romance of this, their fourth album.

Having already revisited Ocean Rain three years ago, and after recently playing earlier works Crocodiles and Heaven up Here, the band should now be about ready to disinter 1999's misfiring What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? Instead, they play two sets, opening with a mixed bag that takes in both ends of their career. Of more recent material, though, only a driving "Stormy Weather" can hold its own with an impassioned "Rescue", Macca's wracked vocal sounding better than his attempts at smooth crooning.

After an interval, the Bunnymen return in smart suits (apart from McCulloch, in baggy attire) for the nine-track album that needs no introduction, yet still gets one from the comedian Tim Vine. Not that the singer, who never undersells his group, wants to be upstaged. "So I went to the doctor's," he teases, before introducing Ocean Rain as "the greatest album ever played."

Possibly not, but you can't imagine them playing it better. From the off, a sped-up "Silver" jolts the audience out of complacency, its sensual charge augmented with a fierce urgency that carries through the remainder of the set. The strings make their impact on "Crystal Days", though they struggle beyond anonymity elsewhere; they leave "The Killing Moon" untouched, though there is a double take when you realise that the insistent plucking comes from guitarist Will Sergeant, not the classical players.

Just as engaging are a sublime "Seven Seas" and the title track itself, which builds slowly until the strings crash in, making the enforced quietude worthwhile. The Bunnymen prove that when the protagonists feel they still have much to prove, playing a classic album is not necessarily a safe option – and nor is interrupting.

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