Thursday, March 19, 2009

Echo and the Bunnymen Raid the Vault

By Evan Rytlewski
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R.E.M.’s much-hyped performance at SXSW last year felt more like a commercial than a concert. With few nods to their back catalogue, the band spent most of the set deluging the audience with material from their then-forthcoming record, Accelerate. If you wanted to hear “Fall on Me,” you had to sit through their time-share presentation first.

Echo and the Bunnymen, the closest thing SXSW offers to an R.E.M. this year, took the opposite approach. They have a new album of their own on the horizon, but didn’t even mention it at their performance Wednesday night, eschewing unreleased material in favor of fan favorites. They made their M.O. known immediately, opening with a triage of songs from their debut album, Crocodiles. They barely touched 2005’s underrated Siberia. Singer Ian McCulloch even cut one of its slower tracks off mid-song, deeming it “too sad,” then breaking into a manic version of 1983’s “The Back of Love” instead.

They certainly refuted the conventional wisdom that Echo and the Bunnymen has mellowed with age. Though decades of smoking has tamed McCulloch’s once mighty wail, the band itself was loud and awesome. The trio of young ringers who round out the band’s touring line-up deserves some of the credit for keeping the blood pumping, but veteran lead guitarist Will Sergeant was the real heart of the band. With McCulloch’s voice reduced to a croak, Sergeant’s pristine, gripping hooks rose to the spotlight the frontman once dominated. It’s a new dynamic for the band, but one that works.
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