Echo & the Bunnymen live at Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas
Rock-n-roll has always celebrated unchecked bravado. So, when Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch declared (often) that “The Killing Moon” was the greatest song ever written, we might not have agreed with him but we certainly didn’t allow his over-confidence to lessen our appreciation for the band’s work.
Over the years, McCulloch has continued to run his mouth in interviews dismissing everyone from Ringo Starr to U2’s Bono (“a gibbering, leprechaunish twat”). Such ridiculous proclamations make for good press clippings but the band has to deliver the goods to back it up.
Currently touring with Violent Femmes, the odd pairing split up for a few days with the Femmes heading to California while Echo & the Bunnymen arrived in Las Vegas at Brooklyn Bowl. After local post-punk giants Close To Modern captured everyone’s attention with a strong set performed under the influence of Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division) and Turn On the Bright Lights (Interpol), the swelling crowd patiently awaited McCulloch’s arrival. And then waited a little bit longer.
Opening with “Going Up” from 1980s Crocodiles, the band gallantly tried to recreate the psychedelically tinged post-punk that was their calling card when they first emerged from Liverpool eager to take on the world. Bathed in near total darkness, McCulloch maintained his rock star pose the entire set – draped over the mic stand sometimes with a cigarette in hand. An aging statesman of gloom, McCulloch looked the part with his long coat and spiked hair. But with every passing song, McCulloch’s ragged voice failed him and the set slowly came apart despite the brilliant guitar work of Will Sergeant.
Ten songs in, McCulloch mumbled something about singing and the band launched into a messy “Bring On the Dancing Horses” where the crowd carried the vocals and the backing band pulled back uncertainly. Whether it was meant to be a sing-a-long or McCulloch’s voice had finally given out completely was hard to determine but for a life-long fan of Pretty In Pink, the song left a sour aftertaste. “The Killing Moon” was equally disappointing and did little to support McCulloch’s claim about it being the greatest song ever written. Perhaps it is but on this night, the band failed to do it justice.
The truncated set ended with “The Cutter” and the band finally flexed some muscle. McCulloch poured all he had left into the lyrics while the crowd yelled along. Returning for a wandering “Lips Like Sugar”, the crowd began to leave as the band pulled back repeatedly and McCulloch held court with unintelligible words. For the most devoted fans, Echo & the Bunnymen remain infallible – but the current tour doesn’t cut the mustard when held next to the band’s incredible discography and the overreaching confidence of Ian McCulloch.