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Bring on the Chatty Front Men

When I was a wee, asymmetrical-haired indie teen growing up in 1980s Massachusetts, what I loved about Echo and the Bunnymen (along with, oh, say, The Cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees) is that they gave you all the pop bombast and drama of heavy metal but they were, you know, cool and moody and goth-y. Lyrics don't get more portentous and high-drama than "Spare us the cutter!" or "Just look at you with burning lips / You're living proof at my fingertips!" (Living proof of what?) Twenty-five years later, and a year after the release of their more-doomily-pop-than-ever The Fountain, E and the Bs hit New York's packed Irving Plaza Saturday night amid a swirl of dark, dramatic lighting that never once put a clear spotlight on the weathered face of front man Ian McCulloch (one of two of the band's intact original members, but the new guys sound good).

They opened with "Going Up" from Crocodiles, their 1980 debut heralding their particular brand of incantatory, foreboding bass lines and spiky guitar riffs underlying McCulloch's tortured, lost-angel wail (now somewhat grizzled). From there, they didn't disappoint longtime fans, delivering big, slightly sped-up, sing-alongable versions of "Rescue," "Bring on the Dancing Horses," "Seven Seas," "The Cutter" and "The Killing Moon," which McCulloch introduced, perhaps correctly, as "the greatest song of all time." During the show's two looong encores, McCulloch got chatty but we couldn't really understand his gravelly Liverpudlian accent, though we're pretty sure he asked "Is anybody here from Hoboken?" at one point and "Has anyone here seen the Sistine Chapel?" at another. In those encores, the band broke "Do it Clean" and "Lips Like Sugar" down into strange, elongated jam sessions where McCulloch incorporated passages from Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and, stranger yet, Linda Ronstadt's "Different Drum." And when they did Fountain's lead song, "Think I Need It Too"--perhaps too catchy for an Echo song, if such a thing can exist--it was hard to escape the feeling that McCulloch sounded a bit like Neil Diamond singing a stadium anthem that would soon become a beer commercial. But you know what? They still gave me that shot of alt-voodoo bombast that made routine daily wedgies when I was 15 not so bad.


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