Echo and the Bunnymen, Royal Albert Hall, London

Simon O'Hagan
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:00

At the same venue three nights previously, concert-goers had revelled in the reassurance offered by the Last Night of the Proms. And a not dissimilar process was at work when post-punk veterans Echo and the Bunnymen took over the Royal Albert Hall and bathed it in a sound as rich and warm and sweeping – not to mention as English – as anything written by Sir Edward Elgar.

This was a moving, memorable evening, the coming together, 30 years on from their formation, of a band that to some extent have slipped through a crack in pop history's floor. Straddling the space between the end of Joy Division and the beginning of U2, musically as well as chronologically, Echo and the Bunnymen have not stood the test of time in anything like the same way. To anyone witnessing them on this occasion, it must have seemed a mystery as to why this is so.

To mark the anniversary, the Liverpool band gave it the heritage treatment and really put on their finery. Dry ice was back – only a little, mind – and the light show was spectacular, with fabulous origami-style patterns projected on to the stage. Band leader and vocalist Ian McCulloch donned a cape that fluttered gently in some artificial breeze. An acutely poignant note was struck in the second half of the show, throughout which photographs of the band as young men starting out in the late Seventies appeared on huge screens either side of the performance space.

And then there was the music. To give the evening a focus, the group showcased their finest hour, the 1984 album Ocean Rain, with the adornment of a 16-piece orchestra. Such extravagance can smack of pretentiousness, but not in this instance. The Bunnymen's lush soundscape has always featured wildly romantic swoops and surges, and the only criticism that could be made was that at times the strings did not come through enough. McCulloch's voice was like torn silk and as magnificent as ever.

An opening set of non-Ocean Rain material reached a high point with the coursing thrill of "Lips Like Sugar" before the main business of the evening sent the audience into a swoon. If you missed it, the Collector's Edition of Ocean Rain is out on CD next month on Rhino.

The band play the Echo Arena, Liverpool on 27 November (0844 800 0400)

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