Live Reviews - Reviews

Echo & The Bunnymen w/ Arborist @ Mandela Hall, Belfast

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Thirty-seven years in, Echo & The Bunnymen’s repute as one of the most vital and influential British rock bands ever is long beyond contention.  Notwithstanding a couple of reunions and several line-up changes, Ian McCullough and co – founding guitar/songwriter Will Sergeant and a considerably more callow touring band – have battened down the hatches for the long run, summoning their pioneering post-punk “glory days” on stage where recent recorded material has just fallen short of that early vitality. Tonight they offer up the timeless magic once more, an undeniably legendary proposition.

With a steady stream of expectant heads herding into the Mandela Hall, singer-songwriter Mark McCambridge AKA Arborist (below) delivers a solid set of considered tales, cultivated and tempered with the imprint of experience. Rather than coming anywhere close to matching the industrious noise of the Bunnymen’s more driving efforts, McCambridge compliments it very nicely in wielding subtlety well, his performance proving an unhurried appertif before the all-but mythological main event.


Emerging shortly after 9.30pm, Echo and the Bunnymen assume their positions and burst straight into ‘Crocodiles’, the timeless title track from their 1980 debut album. From the off, McCullough – in trademark all-black and sunglasses – is typically obstinate from the first bar, making it clear to the sound tech stage-left that he isn’t happy with the sound. Combined with the track’s urgent pace and Sergeant’s masterfully syncopated fretting – cool and commanding as you like – it makes for an electrifying opener, bolstered in quick succession by ‘Rescue’, arguably the band’s finest single-track effort from those early years. “Is this the blues I’m singing?”, McCullough bellows with the crowd, his voice ripened to perfection. At fifty-five years of age, his delivery is as striking and on key as ever.

Keys are introduced on ‘Villiers Terrace’ – another cut from Crocodiles – and a quick take on the Doors‘ version of ‘Roadhouse Blues’. As it invariably does, the early buzz soon wanes a little, before a perfectly plodding ‘All That Jazz’ and a triumphant rendition of ‘Seven Seas’ hit home and then some, the latter, in particular, summoning a real sense of occasion. With McCullough trading the odd incoherent remark with the crowd, recent material including ‘Constantinople’ and ‘Holy Moses’ just about hold the crowd’s attention before ‘Over The Wall’ and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’ effortlessly enrapture, the classic Echo & the Bunnymen sound conjured before our very – deferential – eyes.


And yet the singular, truly transporting moment falls at the feet of ‘The Killing Moon’, not only the band’s finest recorded achievement, but also one of the finest songs ever committed to tape. From Sergeant’s opening 12-string sequence the crowd are instantly smitten, a heaving masse, positively enamoured, rebounding each and every syllable offered up by McCullough. “Through the thick and thin, you will wait until, you give yourself to him,” he preaches, statuesque in black, gripping the microphone stand, shuffling rhythms and broad acoustic chords marrying in a mesh of darkly and incomparably romantic majesty. At its demise – and with the crowd’s applause proving nothing short of deafening – the band tear into a victorious airing of the galloping and glorious ‘The Cutter’.


A brief traipse off stage later, the band return for a encore comprised of a medley of 1997 comeback single, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down, concluding on the exceptional ‘Lips Like Sugar’. With McCullough once again reprimanding the sound tech at the start of ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, it concludes as it begins; eager cries for a second encore left unmet. Thirty-seven years in – notwithstanding those couple of reunions and several line-up changes – tonight’s performance is pretty much as good as it gets. No one, surely, leaves disappointed. Brian Coney

Photos by Shaun Neary.

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.