Music review: Echo and the Bunnymen, James, Brixton Academy, London

4.00

 

"As much as I wanna pass on this torch, no one's takin' it off me 'til I'm dead," belligerent singer Ian McCulloch once characteristically maintained.

Very few British bands have been as hugely influential and distinctive as indie-pop torch-bearers Echo and the Bunnymen, yet here they are supporting James (a tremendous live act, great pop anthems, but influential? Nope, not so much) with a piddly 40-minute slot.

The “main act”, who the majority of the crowd are here for, are allotted over two hours. It’s enough to make the notoriously heated McCulloch even crosser than usual, but the lofty 53-year-old, sporting his obligatory dark shades, takes it on the chin, rattling through nine of their most memorably atmospheric anthems. 

Shrouded in dry ice and driven by Will Sergeant’s urgent guitar, they open with the doomed romanticism of “Lips Like Sugar” (“Just when you think she’s yours/ She’s flown to other shores”) followed by their first single to chart, “Rescue”.  Then we’re treated to the sumptuous double salvo of mid-1980s gems “Seven Seas” and “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, back when McCulloch declared they were “the greatest band in the world”. Listening to the otherworldly charms of “Killing Moon” ("The greatest song ever written," McCulloch half-heartedly informs us) and “Cutter”, you wonder how they ended up as a support act.

James duly demonstrate why they’re still headliners: ostensibly because their frontman, with his shaven head and Ming the Merciless goatee, is still a force of nature, spinning, pulling shapes like it's 1992 and gyrating his snake hips like an unhinged shaman. But, best of all, his dramatic baritone voice is still in sensationally good shape, and he palpably relishes the high notes.

The Mancunian seven-piece, who really took off in 1990 with Gold Mother and peaked in 1997 with Whiplash, immediately energise their followers with "Waltzing Along" and keep them energised throughout their surprising number of persuasive crowd-pleasers: "Sometimes", "She's a Star", "Sit Down" (no-one does, thankfully), "Come Home" and the exquisite lament "Getting Away with It All (Messed Up)", with the memorable lyric "Daniel drinks his weight/ Drinks like Richard Burton/ Dance like John Travolta, now."

The new tracks, mostly plodding dirges, work less well, and a young choir at the back appear underemployed, but you can't complain when the fiftysomethings perform the saucy "Laid", complete with a small stage invasion, and the heartfelt "Born of Frustration". A stirring experience but McCulloch must have identified with Booth's repeated wail "All this frustration, all this frustration..."

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