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Live Review: Echo & the Bunnymen @ 9:30 Club — 5/16/24

Echo & the Bunnymen continue to sell out shows across the United States as they bring on more concerts for their 40th anniversary celebration tour. And their recent return to 9:30 Club in DC gave happy concert-goers all of the neo-psychedelic anthems they craved in a sold-out show.

But the show was most notable for the pure love the audience had for frontman Ian McCulloch — a love that he felt a bit humbled by at the end of a stirring concert that featured epic singalongs of the Bunnymen hits.

At 9:30 Club on May 16, Ian and company divided the show into two sets and two one-song encores. The first set included some great food for the souls of true Bunnymen. Early in the show, Ian sang “Flowers” (the welcome title track to the band’s 2001 ninth album), clutching his microphone and spitting “one by one,” counting down the hours, while keyboardist Mike Smith drilled into the keys behind the frontman. To stage right, fellow founding band member Will Sergeant jammed away on reverberating guitar. And the stage was set for a happy, hazy night of music.

Promptly, Will enthralled the crowd with the opening chords of “Rescue,” a perennial Bunnymen favorite from Crocodiles, Echo & The Bunnymen’s debut album (1980). Ian’s voice was particularly bluesy, which suited the song. The Bunnymen divided the setlist up over a good seven or eight albums, but Crocodiles and fourth album Ocean Rain took lead with three songs each, and Ocean Rain later lent its lyrics to massive singalongs by the crowd.

Watch Echo & The Bunnymen perform “Rescue” live at SXSW in 2007 via YouTube:

Echo & the Bunnymen nodded to the bands love of The Doors with a medley of “Roadhouse Blues” mixed into their own “Villiers Terrace,” also lifted from Crocodiles. The band also included the powerful “Over the Wall” from 1981’s Heaven Up Here and the extraordinary “Bring on the Dancing Horses” in the first set. During “Over the Wall,” Simon Finley shined through the roiling drumbeats of the number, smashing out a frenetic beat. I often identify my taste in music as “a walking John Hughes soundtrack,” and so it is always a good thing to hear “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” recorded for the Pretty in Pink soundtrack and included on the Bunnymen compilation Songs to Learn & Sing.

Prior to “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” Ian invited everyone to sing along, and they accepted his offer! Ian sang the first verse to “Shiver and say the words/ Of every lie you’ve heard,” and then he pointed to the crowd, who responded promptly with the chorus: “First I’m gonna make it/Then I’m gonna break it/Till it falls apart.” Ian was clearly pleased by the audience’s strong embrace of the song.

Watch the official music video for “Bring on the Dancing Horses” by Echo & the Bunnymen on YouTube:

After a 20-minute intermission, the Bunnymen took the stage once again for a second half of the show that featured more opportunities to sing along. The crowd immediately roared along to “Seven Seas,” one of Ocean Rain’s killer tracks. The band next went into “Never Stop,” a personal favorite as it’s the most “disco” of the Bunnymen classics. My friend Rick Taylor observed it was the Bunnymen at “their most Duran Duran,” but the song really draws upon the same chunky disco guitar that inspired their English contemporaries. Good disco beats require a good rhythm section and drummer Simon and bassist Stephen Brannan were equal to the task. The audience cheered lustily as Ian toasted them at the end of the song.

The set concluded with big Bunnymen numbers — “The Killing Moon” (the greatest song ever written, Ian says) and “The Cutter” — from Ocean Rain and Porcupine (1983) respectively. There were no arguments from the audience, who quietly began taking over “The Killing Moon” during the verse and boldly crooned the chorus when the time came. During the instrumental breaks, a hearty clap-along also broke out!

Watch Echo & the Bunnymen perform “The Killing Moon” live at SXSW in 2007 via YouTube:

After “The Cutter,” Echo & the Bunnymen once again circled back to the stage for a performance of “Lips Like Sugar,” the smash from their 1987 self-titled studio album. The singalong was again loud and rapturous. The band walked off stage once more but returned for a final song of the evening — “Ocean Rain” itself. The crowd again showed their appreciate with thunderous applause, and Ian seemed sincerely moved as he said, “thank you, thank you,” and gave a few remarks of praise before launching into the second encore number.

It is clear that Washington, DC, loves Echo & the Bunnymen and that enough people to fill 9:30 Club will follow along with Ian McCulloch on demand. Thankfully, the Bunnymen have been no strangers lately, appearing at the Lincoln Theatre in 2022, The Anthem in 2018, and their previous visit to 9:30 Club back in 20016! DC will surely welcome the band back one day but they have quite a few dates across the rest of the USA to complete first.

Catch Echo & the Bunnymen on tour near you!

Here are some photos of Echo & the Bunnymen performing at 9:30 Club on May 16, 2024.


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