Show Review: Echo & the Bunnymen at The Fox Oakland, 10/22/09

by Jonathan Pirro on October 23, 2009

my ship's a-sail, can you hear its tender frame?

my ship's a-sail, can you hear its tender frame?

My experiences of Echo & The Bunnymen have been few and far between. The first was hearing “The Killing Moon” while watching the opening of Donnie Darko, while others included their cover of The Doors’ “People Are Strange,” and listening to Jello Biafra’s humorous rant about his first appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, where guest Tipper Gore spoonerized the band’s name into “Bunny and the Echomen”. While I listen to them casually, I’ve never had a deep appreciation for their music; with this in mind, I was still very excited to see their second of three performances this year, which included two sets: their 1984 album Ocean Rain, in its entirety, and a second set of old and new songs.

Opening for the band were Los Angeles natives She Wants Revenge, who played a solid, albeit short, set to what seemed to be a relatively unsuspecting crowd. Most of the patrons at the show were unfamiliar with the band; once again, comparisons to Joy Division and New Order were mentioned with notes of intrigue. It was unusual to see She Wants Revenge as an opening band, and also one without at least two rows of bouncing, dancing fans near the rail; then again, I’ve seen them headline three other shows, and they draw a rather different crowd than Echo does (although there’s definitely room for crossover).

At the hour of 9pm, the lights dimmed and the cheers soared, as Ian McCulloch and his band members walked onstage, accompanied by a 16-piece backing orchestra. In the notes of the tour program that was being sold tonight at the merchandise booth, McCulloch had commented that the addition of an orchestra was in the mindset of making things more intricate and fragile, and not over-the-top. His words rang true, as the orchestra definitely added to the haunting, darkly gorgeous vibe of the performance.

The stage was nearly always bathed in soft, blue hues, while the band members never had lights pointed directly at their faces, and chose to remain in shadow. In between songs, McCulloch’s thick, drawling Liverpudlian accent kept his words rather muddy and incomprehensible, but he expressed great satisfaction and amazement with the fullness of the crowd and the excellence of the show. At least, he was mostly satisfied with the crowd — when he wasn’t snapping back at hecklers who’d been shouting requests at him in the middle of many of their softer pieces.

Once the band had completed the final, eponymous song from Ocean Rain, they departed from the stage with the promise to “be back soon”; upon their return, they wasted no time in careening directly back into their classics, beginning with “Rescue” from their 1980 debut, Crocodiles. Most of their second set was filled with classic pieces, although two songs from their new album The Fountain worked their way into the set: “Think I Need It Too” and “Forgotten Fields”. While they did not perform their cover of “People Are Strange”, they DID do a small tease of “Roadhouse Blues” near the end of “Villiers Terrace”, which garnered a loud roar of approval from the crowd.

Concluding their set with “The Cutter,” they proceded to play two encores: “Nothing Lasts Forever,” with a few random songs mixed in, including Lou Reed’s “Take A Walk On The Wild Side”; and finally, “Lips Like Sugar” from their self-titled 1987 album, which was also extended with a softer section (during which McCulloch yelled at the engineers to “turn the fuckin’ lights off!” about four times, before they finally obliged).

As mentioned, this was my first deep experience with Echo & The Bunnymen, and I was very impressed. ’80s production styles have always bothered me about studio recordings; a lot of good records were made in amongst the haze of excessive synthesizers, wall-of-noise guitars and highly-reverbed drums, but nowadays there are too many records that are discounted for these very same factors. Echo’s music transcended out of any ’80s pigeonhole and had a very intense, post-rock feel, without getting too experimental (which is also perfectly fine, as I’m a big space-rock fan) for the sound they were going for. I was caught off guard by their newer songs, and am now curious as to what else their new album contains. Lastly, the performance of Ocean Rain with the added orchestra was probably one of the best ways I could have fully experienced the album; hearing “The Killing Moon” with an accentuating string section was definitely perfect evidence of that fact.


She Wants Revenge setlist

She Wants Revenge setlist

Echo & The Bunnymen setlists

Echo & The Bunnymen setlists

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony Butterworth October 23, 2009 at 9:51 am

Great review, another show I wish I could have attended. Echo’s recent music has been pretty good also.


Damon October 23, 2009 at 10:11 am

I was very excited for this show, but they should have reversed the order. I’ve never seen them live, but have seen live performances on DVD. Ian’s voice generally takes some time to warm up and this was all to evident last night. I thought his voice was extremely weak and haggard until the album was almost over. The other thing that really bothered me was that in parts of Killing Moon and Seven Seas, the drummer’s dynamics became extremely quiet and the beat was totally lost. Also, the strings, which sound gorgeous on the album, were kind of a distraction in the already muddled sound. THAT BEING SAID……the second half was brilliant, energetic, and WAY better than the lure of the show itself, the weakly performed Ocean Rain


lrc November 2, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Ocean Rain has been my ‘desert island’ album since I was about 16 – about 6 years after it was released, so I’ve never seen it preformed. You can imagine how ecstatic I was to go see this show.

All I can say, is I will never, EVER, go see another show at the Fox. The refurbished building is lovely to look at, but they have the worst sound I have ever heard, anywhere – including from crappy stereos in small apartments across the country. I don’t know if it’s their sound guy or the space, but I felt like I was listening to it on an old tape deck – it was really that muddy.

It looked like the band was doing their part, and I think Ian got them to make some adjustments between sets, but wow. How can you sell yourself as a music venue when your sound sucks that bad? It defeats the whole purpose of being there.

It’s still my ‘desert island’ album.


lrc November 2, 2009 at 8:41 pm

just a ps – we were in the balcony. Maybe it sounded better on the floor….


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