Echo and the Bunnymen, The Probes: O2 Academy, Liverpool

Echo and the Bunnymen 8343@sye_lewis

Echo and the Bunnymen

As the Bunnymen round up 2015 with two electric shows, Getintothis’ Del Pike takes in both nights and discovers not all the best Christmas presents are found under the tree.

The good folk of Liverpool have been spoilt this year as far as their Bunnymen quota is concerned. Despite an absence of new material since last year’s mixed response album Meteorites, these city heroes played a blinder at this year’s LIMF closing ceremony. As witnessed by our own lifelong Bunnyfan Paul Fitzgerald, we were treated to a greatest hits set that was as stunning as it was emotional, helped ably by the LPO and the breath-taking firework display that accompanied the Ocean Rain finale.

Read our review of the spectacular LIMF closing ceremony here

Those summer days seem so far away now (notice the absence of the word sunny there), and the dark nights have well and truly closed in. As we queue up to see the second chapter of The Bunnymen’s assault on Liverpool, two nights at the Academy, a sense of old school gig-going closes in. There is nothing quite like lining up to see a band you love on a cold winter night and the anticipation of what lies within. As The Bunnymen are playing over two consecutive evenings, anticipation is even higher.  Will they play the same set twice? Will one night be greatest hits – the other album tracks? One night old – one night new? You never know what to expect from Mac and Co in fairness, and of course this adds to the experience.

Bunnymen fans fall into three camps. You have your back-in-the-day devotees, with memories of traipsing up and down Bold St, sitting in Café Berlin adorned in trenchcoats and kung fu slippers with a copy of Heaven Up Here under their arms (idealistic? Maybe) and your new audience of indie aficionados who see the more recent Bunnymen albums (Siberia or The Fountain) as templates for their own modern heroes or a cooler alternative to Coldplay. You also have your die-hards who have stuck with them through the thick and thin, who will find it difficult to be disappointed over these nights, and recognise their continual endeavour towards quality.

Earlier this year, this writer (who falls into the third camp) contributed an Echo and The Bunnymen Top Ten to Getintothis and placed Nothing Lasts Forever at number one ahead of The Killing Moon. Being tenacious with this choice, it led to a raging online debate certain circles now call Bunnygate, but it is important not to wallow too much in their golden reign. There is life after Ocean Rain after all. Mac and Will Sergeant have kept the ship sailing with a stream of continually satisfying albums from 1997’s brilliant Evergreen up to 2014’s Meteorites, albums that are well worth exploring for those who gave up after the 80s.

So to tonight, the first half of a very welcome early Christmas present…

We could only guess that due to the average age of Bunnymen fans being forty plus, they may have got wise to the Academy beer prices and checked out the start time from the economic safety of the pub. Support band The Probes, therefore found themselves playing to a diminished crowd. They played a curious set, just four tunes, the opener and closer clocking in at about ten minutes apiece.

We enjoyed what they had to offer, a mix of almost proggy guitar-psychedelia mixed with Cure-like 80s jangly pop of the C86 variety. Their look including a Smiths-y quiff and Breton tops certainly matched that golden era. Instrumental Glue served as a highpoint with more genres of guitar-led sounds than we could keep up with. The Probes are a talented Liverpool band who we would like to see more of.

The Bunnymen took to the stage for round one with a pleasantly surprising starter, Crocodiles, taking us right back to the start. It is immediately clear that the six piece line-up are on fine form and Mac’s voice is pitch perfect. You could close your eyes and easily be in 1980. The expected favourites follow with Rescue, and Villiers Terrace seguing into Roadhouse Blues and Jean Genie.

It seems that Mac has had his Doors albums out again as the spirit of Jim Morrison haunts the stage tonight. Manzarek keyboards flow throughout the irresistable Bedbugs and Ballyhoo which is closely followed by People are Strange. Later on we hear Morrison’s Hyacinth House weave in and out of Lips Like Sugar.

Mac’s dialogue tonight is as thickly scouse as ever, often to the point of being indecipherable. He apologises early on for the gigs not being closer to Christmas but amends are made with the festive chimes that ring throughout Seven Seas.

There are few low points tonight, Constantinople, the most recent song in the set from the Meteorites album is a little disorganised and overwhelming but its psychedelic swirls lead perfectly into the gorgeous All My Colours and its Zimbo Zimbo mantra, then all is forgiven. Over The Wall is introduced, with tongue firmly in cheek, as “the song that set us apart from all the other shite, the ninth best song ever written”, hinting at what is soon to come.

Never Stop with its searing Edge-like guitars courtesy of Will Sergeant reminds us of how big the band could have been if they had chosen a different route. There is no doubt that had they sold out they could have been as massive as U2. Sergeant is killer tonight, pure magic.

A welcome Bring on the Dancing Horses is teamed with The Killing Moon, which Mac names once more as “the best song ever written”, admitting “I’m fucking sick of saying this”. The crowd-pleasing trio of …Dancing Horses, The Killing Moon and The Cutter spiral into Christmas party territory as the levels are turned down with minimal subtlety and the audience take over in a mass sing-a-long. The Cutter has former State heads in an orgasmic spin.

In the middle of The Killing Moon, Mac denounces The Beatles with an arrogance that we have come to expect. Looking towards Sergeant, Mac claims that George Harrison was “fucking brilliant, but not as good as him, and Paul McCartney… Fucking Hell!”. When someone down the front calls out Pete de Freitas’ name, The Bunnymen’s former drummer who tragically died in 1989, Mac cries out “He pissed all over Ringo.” After praising Les Pattinson, Mac naturally names himself as “The best fucking singer ever – piece of piss” and, with more swagger than both Gallaghers, finishes off the best song ever.

An encore of Nothing Lasts Forever and Lips Like Sugar is the obvious end to a brilliant set. Mac’s vocals wear down a touch towards the end and the mid Nothing Lasts Forever medley of Walk on the Wild Side (timely following Warhol star, Holly Woodlawn’s death this week), Don’t Let Me Down and Hyacinth House becomes nothing more than a ramble. The chorus is pulled back into touch for one final flourish and the band clock off until their second shift the following night.

As we walk into the Academy on night two, the atmosphere is completely different to the night before. Gone are the gomping dickheads who almost caused a fight the previous night and in their place a much more devout audience who give The Probes a much warmer reception, and rightly so.

They are on fire tonight, delivering what feels like a two song set, the same Cast style opener as last night and a twenty minute journey through a mostly instrumental rock opera that drops in on Joy Division, Radiohead, The Cure, Baltic Fleet and half a dozen other touchstones. It is a truly mesmeric set that establishes them firmly as ones to watch. They are a sublime companion piece to the equally hypnotic Yak whom they played alongside at The Magnet last month.

Read our review of Yak at The Magnet here

When The Bunnymen return it is with a vigour and vim that was not even hinted at the previous evening, despite feeling great at the time. Crocodiles and Rescue suggest that this will be the same set again, but the early appearance of Never Stop B side, Heads Will Roll hints that there may be some surprises in store. It is just a hint though and other than the purging of Villiers Terrace we get virtually the same setlist as last night.

The melancholy Rust from 1999’s What Are You Going To Do With Your Life album is added but that’s about as different as it gets track-wise. It is an entirely contrasting gig, however, and when The Killing Moon rises it feels like Mac is delivering it like it’s his last. There is much less audience participation this time as he savours almost every word and keeps them for himself. Big hits Never Stop, The Cutter and Bring on the Dancing Horses sound incredible and perhaps the highlight of the evening is an exhilarating Over The Wall.

Banter is much less prominent tonight too. There is noticeably less Beatle baiting other than an “I’m fucking sick of The Beatles” in the encore, “…and The Stones”. Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday is noted and Mac’s arrogance shines through once more as Ol’ Blue Eyes is relegated to “the second best singer ever.

The rambling encore from Friday is replaced with a pin-clear delivery of Nothing Lasts Forever, Hyacinth House is swapped for In The Midnight Hour in the medley and Mac reminisces about Pete de Freitas, being born (“I was born blue and grew up red”) and praises the best city in the world. As the band continue to play on, one lone clapper is reprimanded by Mac, “Whoever’s clapping, fucking don’t” he mimics his seal claps and laughs “easiest thing since fucking shitting”.

Lips Like Sugar rounds off the night once more but we sense a bonus coming up and get a perfect rendition of the anthemic Ocean Rain, Mac’s breathy vocals and Will’s rolling guitar flourishes prove that you don’t need fireworks to launch this ship. “You’ll like this” promises Mac, and, of course, we do.

So despite the similar setlists, two hugely different shows, each with their own charm, however Saturday was on the money. It felt like the band were truly enjoying this night and the atmosphere was electric.

These two events were the perfect Christmas present from The Bunnymen to the city they clearly love. Thank you gentlemen.

Photos by Getintothis’ Simon Lewis