Following the success of their recent “Ocean Rain” shows, during which Echo and the Bunnymen performed the surging sweep of their entire 1984 string-laden masterpiece , the band returned to Boston to re-visit their first and sophomore albums, respectively “Crocodiles” and “Heaven Up Here.” Both of these albums are now rightfully regarded as post-punk classics, if the Bunnymen do say so themselves (which, incidentally, they did: the tour was billed as “A Master Class in Rock and Roll.”) For me, the material would not be a question; in the early to mid-80’s, it was the Bunnymen who served as soundtrack to my adolescence, and helped me develop my own sense of self and swagger. But that was a long time ago; would these songs be performed as if they mattered? Or would it come off (as often seems the case these days with time-honored artists) as a group merely going through hollow motions to cash in on former glories?
Arriving on the Paradise stage to the shuddering drone of an ominous backing track, the Bunnymen – sporting Army / Navy fatigues as they did during their original UK tour for this album 25 years ago – crept onto a stage draped in camouflage netting, to the eerie opening strains of “Going Up” and roared into the song’s high-tension drama with 110% conviction and commitment. All were present and accounted for: the racing sense of urgency; the explosive rhythmic dynamics; lead guitarist Will Sergeant’s spectral psychedelic explorations; and singer Ian “Mac” McCulloch’s full-throttle holler. “Let’s get the hell out of here” urged the front man, and for the next couple of hours, that’s where the band and the sold-out crowd went; cast out of the Paradise and into the nightmarish, alien landscape that Crocodiles captured so well in 1980. For the next 40 minutes or so, the Bunnymen battered and maybe even bettered the original recordings, re-igniting such time-tested classics as “Rescue” and “Villiers Terrace”, and treating old fans to the thundering rumble of “Happy Death Men” which they hadn’t played live in decades.
After a quick break, the Bunnymen returned to perform “Heaven Up Here,” a more experimental album that supplanted the linear angular drive and structure of its predecessor with an atmosphere of space, grandeur, and windswept melancholy. Some questioned whether Mac’s voice, now burnished by time and cigarettes, would be able to soar into the higher vocal stratospheres that he nailed so effortlessly in 1981. This he did, shining most brightly during the album’s heartbreaking only single “A Promise.”
After closing the second set with the storming “All I Want,” the band returned once more to deliver a few fan favorites not featured on Crocs or HUH, including “The Cutter,” “Nothing Lasts Forever,” (with a segue into Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side”) and “Bring on the Dancing Horses.”
What was the crowd’s response? Alligator blues or crocodile smiles?
The latter, in spades.
Chris Adams is the author of Turquoise Days: The Weird World of Echo and the Bunnymen