Review: Echo & The Bunnymen top nostalgic bill for opening Skyline Series show

22nd July 20183.5-stars


It’s a pure case of balmy Friday night splendour as the first instalment of the newly introduced Skyline Series plays host to a nostalgia inducing triumvirate of Peter Hook & The Light, The Jesus & Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen. The fact that tonight’s original venue – the new outdoor arena of St Philip’s Gate – is yet ready for action is, in the circumstances a happy one. The scenic harbourside backdrop provided by the Lloyds Amphitheatre is close to perfect on gorgeous summer’s evenings such as this.

Arriving after Peter Hook & The Light’s set, focus is very much on two of the heavyweights of the post-punk, new-wave era. The Jesus & Mary Chain are halfway through their set as I make my way into the large-but-hardly-close-to-a-sold-out audience. Amidst a generally middle-aged crowd and a panoply of band T-shirts of the era – including The Cure, The Fall, The Smiths – there is something fairly modern emerging from the stage; ‘All Things Pass’ from 2017s Damage and Joy is less engulfed in the band’s trademark fizz and emanates clearly, though a little tepidly, from the stage.

For those unfamiliar with their 2018 visage, the brothers Reid are marked out by their sporting of band t-shirts that match with their choice of stage backdrop; Jim remains as slim as his 1980s counterpart while William is beefed up with shocks of bouffant grey hair. ‘Some Candy Talking’ is more familiar terrain and a mini-mosh pit appears to have formed at the front of the audience. The gloomy sentiments of ‘Halfway to Crazy’ (“suicide can save me”) are camouflaged by its breezy three chord motif and ‘Cracking Up’ reveals William’s decent ear for a riff. ‘

Though the band are effortlessly watertight, the sound emanating from the stage isn’t near  big enough to envelope us all in its intoxicating fuzz and there’s little extra stage activity – be it movement or badinage – to increase the levels of interest. ‘I Hate Rock n Roll’, however, is a strong closer.

Still retaining his rock and rock cool and, at a distance at least, a semblance of his youth, Echo & The Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch – smoking a cigarette and clad in leather jacket and black jeans – marches on to the stage. Noticing the buoyant audience singalong of “First I want a kiss, then I want it all” during opener ‘Rescue’, it appears that the evening has cranked up a gear. Affirmation of this arrives as a silver-haired drunk man in a Fall T-shirt serenades himself during the entirety of ‘Villier’s Terrace.’

It’s a set that feels a tad raw – the adroit delivery of quality songs combining with breakdowns and flat receptions to new material. To give them their due, the new songs we hear are decent enough but McCulloch – apparently inspired by the audience’s indifference – sarcastically remarks “it’s a classic” when introducing the second of these. ‘All My Colours Turn to Clouds’ is halted after suffering a mid-song stumble and McCulloch’s ostensible justification – due to his thick Scouse rumble – is totally lost in the ether.

As opposed to the wheels coming off, a series of favourites towards the home straight sees the set regain its momentum. ‘Never Stop’, the evening’s most quintessentially 80s tune, is clearly a crowd pleaser and the anthemic ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’ incites perhaps the most spirited audience singalong of the evening.

Returning for a one song encore, it’s the utterly predictable but equally welcome rendition of the band’s 1984 magnum opus ‘The Killing Moon.’ McCulloch incredibly is still smoking and doesn’t appear to have ceased for the entire set. The raga guitar lines and McCulloch’s vocal refrain at the song’s outro sound just like the record. It’s a magical moment and perhaps enough to quell suspicions that the evening occasionally felt like a pointless excercise in nostalgia.

Scott Hammond