From coast to coast; McCulloch and co rekindled a long standing love affair with The Big Apple and Getintothis’ Jonathan Turton was there to see it all unfold.
Echo and The Bunnymen have a long and substantial history in New York. In ’84 the original line-up triumphed at The Savoy in Harlem, whilst modified versions have visited the city no-less than a dozen times since. Last Monday, the mercurial Liverpool rockers did it all over again on an occasion that will stand-up against any previous outing.
British new-wave bands have long been sought in America; the likes of The Cure and New Order regularly sell out auditoriums throughout the great plain. Yet New Yorkers in particular understand that buying a ticket to see The Bunnymen is not to do so in pursuit of an 80s flashback, but to witness one of the truly great post-punk, rock and roll acts.
Webster Hall, like McCulloch – the fine, exalted venue he would look out across – has seen many changes in the music industry throughout the years, yet continues to do what it does best. If there’s a better place to watch a gig in Manhattan we’ve yet to encounter it.
Formerly an arena for Labor Union rallies and other leftist activity, The Lower East Side Ballroom offered the perfect setting for an evening with Merseyside’s premium, anarchist outfit. First up, however, it was the turn of fresh, indie upstarts Wanna, who didn’t disappoint.
So far on this North American tour Sergeant and McCulloch have opted against an opening act, yet changed tack this time-out in Downtown NYC. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, it was easy to see why. Wanna brought something completely out of left-field, with three guitarists, a centred female vocalist and a drummer-come-lead-singer off-set to the right of stage (lest we forget the keyboard player tucked away at the back). The ensemble provided a highly interesting visual, a theme that thankfully continued when they started playing.
In true Don Henley fashion, lead singer Josh Mac attended seamlessly to drumming and vocal duties. Upbeat and energetic throughout, the six-piece offered a slice of pop-rock that perhaps even the Big Apple hadn’t encountered before; an in-the-right-way-weird mix of Supergrass and Placebo, with spatters of storytelling more akin to The Divine Comedy or Art Brut.
Josh Mac – a Merseysider based in Brooklyn – is unsurprisingly the brain behind this most original creation. Perhaps another yield from the indomitable scouse musical crop?
Then it was the turn of the ageing Rock & Roll savant. How would he, Sergeant and his hired guns fair on this old, majestic stomping ground?
McCulloch emerged slowly, billowed by light expertly finessed by the technicians outback. A dark, rangey silhouette; Mac’s style has changed marginally, if at all, during a variety of trips to the city spanning decades.
The show started relatively slow as the band competently eased through a series of choice cuts designed to whet the appetite. Visible from the balcony however, the setlist – so big it might have been drawn by Andre The Giant – allowed fans an insight into joys yet to pass. McCulloch’s eyes mustn’t be what they were, however his voice, more importantly, is in fine working order.
Tearing through the latter-half of a setlist that aimed to please, McCulloch’s vocal soared triumphantly on hits like Never Stop and Rescue. Although allowing the audience a few choruses through a reversed microphone, it’s remarkable that the 57 year old can still hit octaves designed for the pipes of a man half his age.
The band never really threatened to blow the elaborate, mansard roof off the famous hall, however the show had an advancing momentum throughout. Sergeant’s jangling riffs danced through Bedbugs and Ballyhoo as tapping feet in the sell-out crowd turned into stomps.
By this point the audience was entirely onboard. Any curious tag-alongs where now fully fledged members of the deity. The Killing Moon got the rapturous welcome you’d imagine whilst The Cutter also, unsurprisingly, hit the right groove.
At the Peppermint Lounge in Midtown, 1983, The Bunnymen played a cover of Heroin by The Velvet Underground and now, more than thirty years later, Nothing Ever Lasts Forever morphed effortlessly into Walk on the Wildside; a tribute to another great lost in recent years, fittingly in the neighbourhood Lou Reed would always call home.
Lips Like Sugar provided the encore before a procession of chuffed faces made their way out of the famous doors, onto the bustling streets of the peerless metropolis.
Another resounding success for Liverpool’s premier art-rockers in the city that likes to stay up late. Many years ago Ian McCulloch looked at a Killing Moon towering over the River Mersey. Tonight he would see a more forgiving celestial body smiling back at him in the night-sky above the Hudson.