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ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN:  The Triumphant Hop To The Top

By Ted Cantu

 

CHICAGO, IL – The Bunnymen are back…. And its 2014. I gotta tell ya I never thought they would be around this long. I remember after the end of the 1987 -1988 tour there was a death in the band with the loss of the drummer Pete DeFreitas. Then the band went silent while front man Ian McCulloch wandered off to other projects including a solo album. Echo and the Bunnymen carried on with the Reverberation album  and hired replacement singer Noel Burke. For many fans that effort got mixed reviews… some loved it… some hated it. I was one of the guys who loved it initially and then I learned all of the songs inside and out. Over time I grew to loathe it mainly because I missed original singer Ian McCulloch.

This was all taking place during the rise of Alternative Radio and all we could do as fans was speculate. I had friends who worked in the college radio station at U of M campus. The radio station was WCBN and we couldn’t get enough of the new sounds that were coming out at the time. Ian kept on doing his solo thing with, “Candleland” and “Mysterio”. Those were okay albums and they had a bit of the ol EATB punch that we all come to know and love. There were a lot of moody tracks in those records and a lot of brooding. Maybe Ian McCulloch was expressing grief over the loss of his friend. You know when DeFreitas died he was only 27 years old… another member of the ill fated, “27 Club”.

There were videos on MTV and before you knew it Echo and the Bunnymen was shelved up there the first wave punk bands. They had the classification of being an oldies act. I had a hard time saying goodbye to them because throughout their hard climb to the top they were a part of me. They weren’t a huge part…. But definitely a part of me that I refused to let go of.


I was in Chicago when they came back.  They were playing at some music festival… one of those… all day deals. I read about them in an entertainment paper. The writer said to, “Bring yer hankies…” meaning that the true fans would get sentimental. And he was right…. This had become an iconic band in the hearts of many alternative fans. Echo was launching their great return back to the spotlight with, “Evergreen”. This album had a considerable amount of the right kinds of hooks and jabs that made them memorable without the start jarring ear shattering notes from the previous, “Ocean Rain”. The band seemed to be maturing? Maybe it was just evening out and showing us another side of their introspective nature.

THE 1990’S: A BOLD NEW ROAD

   
   
   

One of the things I always remembered about the 1988 show in Ann Arbor, Michigan was how the band overpowered the stage. The bright spotlights made each band member shadow look 40 feet tall and they carried through the show with such relentless drive. The music was so new even to American ears and audiences that it was hard to define. Traditional rock music media had a hard time trying to get a grasp of it. Rolling Stone magazine likened them to the Doors. That was an easy mark to hit I suppose with the bluesy single, “Bed Bugs and Ballyhoo”. But the entire catalog was nothing like the Doors… in fact not even close.

Before the return of Echo and the Bunnymen lead frontman Ian McCulloch created something called, “Electrafixion”.  This album was dark, it was dangerous, and it took the creative lead into the deep end. It went further than anything Echo had done and Ian was a maniac on it. I loved this album and it was a great compliment to, “Evergreen” and things got really exciting.

Then the band went somber with the release of, “What Are You Going To Do With Your Life”. The frantic energy almost came to a grinding halt. I was even unsure if I still liked the band. The sound and approach was totally different and the arrangements were almost pleasant. To an untrained ear they could have been an easy listening band or even elevator music. The switchblade guitar sound that made those jagged rhythms were gone and a thing of memory. There were plenty of other bands who were making a living with that sound namely, “The Mighty Lemon Drops”.

I caught one of their comeback tours in Connecticut. They were going back on the road to support , “Flowers”. I figured out something pretty interesting while I was living out on the coast.  Rock and roll bands that are about to embark on a national tour will test out their show and audience in a small club in New Haven called, “Toads Place”.  I’m not exactly sure how I figured this out or how told me but a lot of bands played there including the Rolling Stones, and the Psychedelic Furs. The EATB show was pretty much like the first time I saw them in Ann Arbor. They had lots of strobe lights and lots of fog machines and made the club look like an Amazon rain forest.

You’ll notice something about those late 90’s live shows. Ian and the band will rip through the early tracks first like, “The Rescue” which I think is a great song – but its almost like they want to rush through them to get to the new stuff. Another odd thought I had was that the opening guitar riff reminded me a bit of a UK ambulance siren but maybe I think about this stuff a little too deeply. Ian’s voice wasn’t nearly as whiney and shriek like. It had matured over the years and was more of a full on rumble and even full of regret and remorse. This was nothing like the Doors… not even close. This was its own creation, its own sound and its own invention.

In many respects this was a style of show that should be considered standard. These guys create a real atmosphere that is almost other worldly. To be fair the Cure does this too in their late poppy period of the early 90’s.

THE 2000’S AND NOW:  The Sound Is Alive Again

   
   
   

There were a couple of memorable moments in the 2000’s. The album, “Siberia” has some fantastic songs on it and Ian is joined up again with Will Sergeant and creating solid pop music such as the memorable, “Stormy Weather”. They also released some B-sides that had some interesting takes on the Beatles, “Ticket to Ride”.  They also did some live concerts where they recreated, “Ocean Rain” and “Heaven Up Here” with a full orchestra. Some of the more notable performances were done in New York City at the Radio City Music Hall.

So what does, “Meteorites” sound like? It sounds like the familiar band we all knew originally. There is a full sound there that communicates at some deep fundamental level of Echo music. It is hard to place a finger on what album it comes from. They are not the rambunctious band they once were in their 20’s and either are the fans. There was kind of a Beatle energy about them when they played in 1988. Ian was a chick magnet and would do these weird dances where he had no dexterity or muscle control and his frame and rattle and shake…. He would vibrate across the floor and the flash bulbs would go off. It was historic. I wish someone would write about that. I was there so I can tell you what it was like and to this day I have never seen any video of that on Youtube or hear any of the fans discuss it let alone rock journalists.

The track, “Market Town” is really familiar and yet it is a new experience. The sound is deep and there is a familiar beat to it and it lures you in. That’s the thing about Echo music is that when they are good and deliberate they pull you in. They capture you and hold you captive. When they want to alienate you they are experts at that. I still remember being baffled when I first played, “Thorn of Crowns”.  The Meteorites album is easy to relate to and its easy on the ears. “Lovers on the Run” is a great track too and its very reliable and friendly. I am sure radio stations will have no problem playing it if they expand the idea  of what is possible. Even alterative radio has a problem playing new tracks even by someone as iconic as Echo and the Bunnymen.

It’s not just the alternative radio people but classic rock people too. Just a couple of years ago they had a hard time giving time and attention to Van Halen’s, “A Different Kind of Truth”. Not to steal the spotlight but that album has some great tracks on it like, “Chinatown” and “That’s The Trouble With Never” but you will never hear those on the playlists. Just like the alternative list they are going to go with the most obvious and the most familiar tracks that made them famous. Echo and the Bunnymen has the same problem. And for the record, if I have to listen to, “The Killing Moon” again I am going to jump out a window. That song has been played to death on the radio. EATB has a colorful catalog of songs to pick from and this album adds a new dimension to the bands career.

Echo And The Bunnymen - Saint Andrews Hall, Detroit - Concert Review >>>

  Echo and the Bunnymen Meteorites - Live at Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit, Michigan 2014
Echo and the Bunnymen Meteorites - Live at Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit, Michigan 2014
  Echo and the Bunnymen Meteorites - Live at Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit, Michigan 2014
Echo and the Bunnymen Meteorites - Live at Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit, Michigan 2014
  Echo and the Bunnymen Meteorites - Live at Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit, Michigan 2014
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Echo and the Bunnymen - First Look - Constantinope - From The Meteorites Album

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Echo and the Bunnymen - LIVE Ocean Rain

Echo and the Bunnymen - Meteorites Tour 2014

 

“A VISUAL ASSAULT: REM Dissected Scene By Scene

The bottom video was shot in 1989 and is the closest thing I could find to what the original show opener was like in 1987. This was a departure for REM as much as it was for the audience. Just when you thought you knew the band they changed on you in a new and exciting way. It would take some time to recognize them once again. In the case of, “Document” the album had to grow on me. I noticed this sort of thing happening with the Smiths too.

There was one sequence in the video, not shown in this edition, when the words – “Want” and “Need” come on screen. The words flipped interchangeably and morphed into a strobe that said, “Need Weed” and I remember the crowd going a bit wild over that. This was Ann Arbor after all. There is some talk about the set list being accurate. I do not believe, “Orange Crush” or “Pop Song 89” was performed in 1987. Those songs were released after REM went to Warner Brothers. “Document” was the last album created under the I.R.S. Records label.

There is another version of, “The One I Love” done on the live tour. Stipe starts out with a slow intro and for a minute I thought the whole song would be done slow. It then kicks into the tempo we all know. The stage was also bathed in an eerie red light. How this song got perceived as a love song I’ll never know. It was about a sick love obsession.

Over the years I hear the young kids go, “Oh who cares about that stuff, REM was long before my time.” Trust me, you wish you were there. This show was nothing but historic.

 
 
 
 
REM in 1987 and the Birth of Alternative Radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan - Crisler Arena >>>>

Echo and the Bunnymen - Meteorites at the Metro in Chicago, Illinois and Detroit

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