Rock & pop: Easter with the Bunnymen

Echo and the Bunnymen/PJ Harvey

Improv Theatre, London

Wilco

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Ben Lee

Improv Theatre, London

Not an appropriate question for Easter Sunday, perhaps, but is John Peel the new Messiah? Somebody seems to think so. However early you do your Christmas shopping, Jesus's birthday parties don't get going five months before the event, whereas a series of special concerts is already underway to celebrate the DJ's turning 60 ... and his birthday isn't until the end of August. On Thursday, a photo of his benign, bearded face covered half a wall of the Improv Theatre, and the miraculous double bill featured Echo and the Bunnymen and PJ Harvey.

The Bunnymen obviously believe that birthdays are a time for looking back on life. They played "Rescue" and "The Killing Moon" and "The Back of Love" and "The Cutter", and the nostalgic audience cheered its gratitude. However, to milk the motif to the last drop, a birthday is one time when you can't forget how old people are, and the Bunnymen are not quite evergreen. Ian McCulloch's vocals, never very stable in concert, were toppled by the sound balance, and Will Sergeant was wise to keep his face hidden beneath a chin-length fringe. And they're the only two original members left in the band. For Thursday's show they were joined by a bassist, a keyboard player, a second guitarist and a clattering, intrusive drummer. No wonder they didn't sound like the Bunnymen of yore.

The frustrating thing is that they shouldn't even have tried. On Monday, the Bunnymen release their second album since they reformed in 1996, and it proves there's no need to dwell on past glories. Fitting just nine tracks into 38 minutes, What Are You Going To With Your Life? (London) is the work of a band who were determined not to include any song that wasn't one of their best.

Just as Nick Cave slowed the pace and lowered the mask on his last album, the Bunnymen have grown more reflective on this one. Their new music is understated, with an emphasis on acoustic instruments and sensitive crooning. McCulloch has always fancied himself as a Sinatra rather than a yelping trenchcoat. Here, perhaps because he turns 40 in a month, he takes the album's name to heart and has the courage of his convictions. Two decades after they formed and one decade after they split up, Echo and the Bunnymen have made an album that matches their finest work, but doesn't struggle to echo it.

To return to the concert, PJ Harvey was concentrating on the past, too, thumbing right to the back page of her back catalogue. Sadly, she wasn't surrounded by the musicians who appeared on those tracks. Instead, she played guitar and John Parish alternated between guitar and drums, whereas her theatrical presence is more dramatic when a full, creative band is furnishing the scenery.

Still, Harvey's frightening intelligence shines through all her performances. She is a woman possessed by the Hardyesque tragic heroines in her songs. She could be a captivating actress - although, as I say, she's better suited to ensemble pieces than monologues.

This week's theme seems to be potentially wonderful artistes failing to live up to my great expectations. The other two concerts I went to were promoting two of this year's best albums, and neither gig matched either record. Wilco simply didn't play enough songs from their new LP, Summerteeth (Reprise), and they hadn't brought along enough instruments to do those songs justice. Summerteeth sounds like the Beatles and the Beach Boys on a trip to the Deep South. Live, it's only Jeff Tweedy's tired and defeated voice that elevates Wilco above any skilfully clip- clopping folk-pop band.

Before he founded Wilco, Tweedy was one of the two leaders of Uncle Tupelo, and I can only assume that the other one was the natural performer of the band, while Tweedy was the shy one in the background. He never closes the gap between the band and the politely nodding audience, either metaphorically or - thanks to a barricade of speakers - literally. Maybe this barricade was there for our safety. When Wilco last played in London, Tweedy was not in the brightest of moods. "I remember I said something like, `I'm gonna come out there and wipe my Yankee ass on your Limey heads,' " he grinned on Saturday. Nice as the concert was, I couldn't help thinking that the previous one must have been more of an occasion.

Ben Lee's performance was quite a contrast. Not only did he put his back into it, he nearly put his back out, too. He kept twisting round the microphone stand so he could sing facing in a different direction, and then pulling down the stand to waist level, so he had to bend double to get his mouth to the microphone.

It could be because he's only 20, or because he looks as if he's only 12, but these antics came across as annoyingly affected, and they only detracted from the stylish alt-pop of his latest album, Breathing Tornadoes (Grand Royal). Two verses into a solo rendition of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's All Right", Lee breaks off to announce that it's such a fucking brilliant song, he feels so fucking unworthy. Again, this seems less like humility than posing. When I scraped my way through Bartk in the school orchestra, I never put down my viola and told the assembly that I wasn't worthy.

Echo & the Bunnymen start a UK tour at Newcastle Mayfair (0191 232 3109), 11 April.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high