Echo (Echo) Fades (Fades)
Echo and the BunnymenThe Paradise
The second-to-last song I saw Echo and the Bunnymen perform at the Paradise on Monday night was entitled "Nothing Lasts Forever," which appropriately sums up my exact feelings toward the horribly sad spectacle I witnessed.
Echo and the Bunnymen emerged from the post-punk scene of Liverpool in England in the late '70s, and injected a shot of desolation into the synthesized neon colors of the New Wave music scene. While their debut album Crocodiles held compositions of jarring angst, later albums like Ocean Rain promised gentle beauty. However, by the time the group broke up in 1988, it was a shadow of its former self. Still, the group recovered from the tragedies of original drummer Pete DeFreitas' death and suspect musical side careers and finally resurfaced with Evergreen in 1997. 1999 saw the release of What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?, a quiet affair spotlighting Ian McCulloch's smooth vocals over quieter instrumentation.
However, those in the audience expecting the same were sorely disappointed. While it's understandable that those classic Bunnymen high notes are probably unreachable now, most of what McCulloch hoarsely sang/said was rendered a mush of garbled noise. Classics like "Rescue," "Crocodiles," "Bring On The Dancing Horses" and "The Killing Moon" were painfully weak renditions of the originals.
Admittedly, McCulloch is notorious for being difficult to understand onstage. However, that was no excuse for his distasteful attitude to everybody, which must have had something to do with one of the guitarists slamming down his instrument and leaving the stage during the middle of "Lips Like Sugar." And after that fiasco it almost seemed as though McCulloch deliberately screwed up the timing of the lyrics just to see how far he could push the remaining members of the band. Which is a shame, because the highlight of the show was the concise and biting instrumentation by the rest of the band, which was musically perfect and sonically explosive.
Peering at the set list and the five unplayed songs after the set-ender of "Lips" made me wonder if the band was coming back, or if I even wanted them to. For a band so magical on recording, the show had been incredibly flat and lifeless. The promise of the show died in the middle of the opener "Rescue" and was only recaptured in spurts: the biting "The Back Of Love," a rejuvenated, energetic version of "The Cutter" and a sensitive rendition of latest album's title track.
It was unfortunate that the first encore concluded with an amazing segue just as I was about to depart. An obviously chastened McCulloch delivered a rollicking version of "Do It Clean" that displayed more energy than the rest of the set combined. It then halted suddenly and changed into a chilling a cappella rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin." The dark dirge about a death drug breathed life back into the show. But it was too late; the aging Goths in the front row could feel it; the drunken hooligans by the pool of beer near the bar could feel it; even this 20-year-old neo-Bunnymen fan could feel it. It's a sad realization when you see something once vibrant wither away, and the resulting empty feeling is what I took away from this show.
Thanks to the opening band, Other Star People, it was not an entirely futile night. Sadly, the tight, focused and loud rock of this group, made up of former L7 member Jennifer Finch, Todd Phillips (formerly of the Juliana Hatfield Three), Xander Smith and Junko Ito, was lost on the mostly older crowd. The poppy Bis-like vocals and catchy rock stylings of compositions from their debut Diamonds in the Belly of the Dog, as well as their cover of the Police classic "Next To You" were frenzied, energetic and inspiring: in short, everything Echo and the Bunnymen were not.