Echo & The Bunnymen, Royal Court, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

Twenty-five years on, and every Liverpudlian hipster of a certain age is here to pay their respects. With their debut album, Crocodiles, Echo & The Bunnymen helped to tear their city away from The Beatles' orbit, into a new zone of ambition where grey, possessionless bedsits in a jobless city could be transformed by psychedelic drugs, vinyl and boundless imagination.

Powerfully monochrome at first, like all early Thatcher music, they blossomed into the orchestral sweep of Ocean Rain before compromised success in America and the death of their drummer, Pete de Freitas, made them sink. Their revitalised comeback in 1997 may have gently faded over three albums, but the seeds they helped to sow for later local dreamy mavericks, from The La's to The Coral, and the fierce loyalty to his home of the singer Ian McCulloch, ensure that they are still revered here. For this special show in this atmospheric old theatre, the hum of happy expectation is audible.

Fittingly preceded by a stormcloud of dry ice, McCulloch appears ageless beneath his big hair and shades; a rock star preserved, perhaps, by his bottomless reservoir of ego and cheek. Humility isn't encouraged, either, when the debut hit "Rescue" sees the whole of the ground floor punch along to the words, a communal effort which, by "The Killing Moon", has become so fervent that the crowd spontaneously start the song without McCulloch.

Having met the earlier singalongs by coolly lighting up a cigarette, he modifies his studied indifference to start each line with a crooner's care before letting the mass chant take hold, coyly enquiring at the song's end: "Shall I go on?" Shamelessly stoking and feeding off local pride, he declares Liverpool to be "the opiate of the workers - Adam and Eve came from here," before his band's own small miracle, "The Cutter", which inspires adoration he steps back to watch - just a conduit for feelings people brought with them, tonight.

The signals that The Bunnymen still mean something more than that aren't as strong as when they first returned, when their passionate shows and inspired new songs took on Britpop and won. This time they seem more dependable, even over-relaxed, as if the surviving core members, McCulloch and the guitarist Will Sergeant, know that they are not going anywhere else now, and neither are we. They do justice to the full range of their achievement, from the doomy grandeur of "The Back of Love" (for which Sergeant's fingers flutter over his guitar, his face wholly hidden by a huge moptop), to the mature resignation of 1999's "Rust".

But it's only in the home straight that McCulloch really starts to stretch himself. "Do It Clean" sees him order the lights killed, break into other songs, and then blast back into a chorus we've almost forgotten. It's a trick repeated for "Nothing Lasts Forever", the comeback single about nostalgia and still beating desire, here amended with a verse from Lou Reed's neglected classic "Take a Walk on the Merseyside". And for "the best song ever written" he lets his old stately, soaring ambition speak for him; "Ocean Rain" is one more reason why Liverpool still loves him.

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