Phoebe Lease ’21 | Arts Editor
It’s always a gamble to see a band that hasn’t been popular in years. Will the concert be a desperate shot at reviving the nostalgia of old fans, or will it be able to engage new listeners too? I wondered this on my way to Echo & The Bunnymen’s show in Northampton last week.
I wasn’t alive during the 80s and have only learned to love the music of the Bunnymen and its post-punk peers through second-hand listening. I knew of the fairly reverential status the group holds in music communities, but I wasn’t very familiar with their music. I walked into Calvin Theatre not quite knowing what to expect.
This year, the band released their first album in four years called “The Stars, The Oceans, and the Moon.” It features the biggest hits from their prime reimagined with, as the band puts it, “strings and things.” The new leg of the band’s tour premiers these new renditions as well as some songs in their original form.
The show started with the Bunnymen’s opener, Jonathan Jackson of the indie-rock act Enation. Jackson has written songs for TV shows like One Tree Hill and Nashville. Alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar and a fedora, he performed several songs with strong religious imagery and political platitudes. The music sounded like it came straight out of U2’s repertoire, and Jackson rivaled both the vocal inflections and the pretensions of Bono. However, Jackson’s strong and pleasant soprano made up for any banality in his message.
Later in the night, Echo & The Bunnymen took the stage amid candles and soft red lighting. Lead singer Ian McCulloch stood center stage, channeling Lou Reed in a leather jacket and sunglasses, the latter of which stayed on for the entire evening’s performance. The group started the show with “Going Up” off of their debut album, “Crocodiles,” much to the delight of the audience. McCulloch’s voice reflected his age; he sounded wearier than he did in the original recordings but still sang with emotional intensity and a sense of longing. The band proved that they still had a knack for dramatic flair, the stage lights pulsating above them and soft, disembodied voices weaving their way between songs.
The group nonchalantly played their way through their set, choosing material from almost all of their albums. People danced at their seats and in the aisles for some of the band’s more popular hits, including “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” “Seven Seas” and, of course, “The Killing Moon.” The Bunnymen also integrated bits of music by David Bowie and Lou Reed into their own songs, and the crowd enthusiastically sang along to the chorus of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”
McCulloch, a Liverpool native, bantered throughout the set in a heavy English accent. He made a point in the beginning to jokingly over-articulate his words but quickly resumed making quips in his normal inflection that were largely incomprehensible to the American crowd. He managed to elicit a few laughs from those who could understand him, but people seemed more amused by other crowd-members shouting, “Enunciate, man!” Thankfully, the miscommunication didn’t get in the way of a good show. The group came back for an encore after loud applause from the audience, giving one last burst of energy for “Lips Like Sugar” and “Ocean Rain.”
Since their reunion in 1997, Echo & The Bunnymen have released several new albums, and it doesn’t seem like they’re slowing down anytime soon. According to the clapping and cheering in Calvin Theatre that night, it doesn’t sound like fans want them to, either.