Echo & the Bunnymen Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, ON October 20
Published Oct 21, 2009It's a monumental year for Echo & the Bunnymen's seminal 1984 album Ocean Rain. On top of marking its 25th birthday, in May it was announced that an astronaut will be taking a copy of the record up into space with him. Oh, and there are these shows the band have been putting together around the world where they perform the album in its entirety with an orchestra.
Before the band called in the strings, Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant and their latest band pulled out a 50-minute hits-heavy warm-up set. McCulloch warned early on that his voice was rough that night thanks to "too many interviews, too may ciggies," and at times he was right. But the band — thanks to the venue's crystalline acoustics — sounded magnificent.
Sampling their catalogue, they began with a spiky rendition of Crocodiles' "Going Up," threw in staples like "Dancing Horses" and "The Cutter," and ended with their 1997 near-hit "Nothing Lasts Forever," interrupted by a few verses of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." New album The Fountain was also sampled, like single "Think I Need It Too," but the newfangled "crunch" of the songs really rubbed against the classics.
After an intermission, the Liverpudlians walked back on stage with a ten-piece orchestra and conductor Rupert Christie in tow, diving into their opus. What became obvious early on was that the strings were more of an undertone than a scene-stealer. They helped intensify the crescendos of "Nocturnal Me," blow the erratic "Thorn of Crowns" up into a dizzying series of climaxes and fulfil the sublime splendour of the evocative title track.
The grandiosity and magic of the evening — enhanced by old black and white, of-the-era band photos — was all thanks to the band's adroit execution. And by the time they finished "Lips Like Sugar" in a prompted encore, McCulloch's voice had somehow improved since the start, even after — in true form to his dissident character — he unlawfully lit one up on stage.