Tuesday 30 April 2024

Recent(ish) gigs: Echo & The Bunnymen and The Beat

It's been a slow start for gigs for me this year, so I played catch-up last month with two cracking gigs and only one day of rest ( I didn't rest ) between them. First up: a Wednesday night in Bristol with Liverpool's legendary Echo & The Bunnymen.

The Bunnymen had only a few days before played a warm-up gig for this tour at my fave venue, the Gloucester Guildhall, but I'd only found out about it after it had sold out. Bugger! I quickly snapped up a couple of tickets for the newly refurbished and renamed Bristol Beacon ( formerly the Colston Hall ) and Sarah & I soon found ourselves heading down that familiar M5 route to the city of Aardman and Banksy.

My first impression of the Beacon was... wood. Lots of wood. Everything seemed to be wood-panelled, which was... nice, but a bit bland. They're obviously going for a very upmarket, concert hall vibe. Sarah pointed out that this was Bristol ( as said above, the city of cartoon critters and iconic graffiti ) so, she'd expected it to be a bit funkier. Oh, well! It was still cool to be there. We only caught a couple of songs from support act, violinist Erica Nockalls, but weren't too bothered, as what we heard was pretty dreary and tune-free. I'd been looking forward to seeing her, after catching her with Miles Hunt at the Gloucester Guildhall some years ago, and being impressed by her talent and statuesque image, but this performance drifted into the murkier backwaters of art rock and was just a big yawn.
But then it was Bunny Time. Sorry, that sounds too much like a CGI-ed kids' TV show. It was "Bunnymen" Time...

Mac and the boys played two sets, the first comprising deep cuts and new material, the second slanted more towards old favourites. They kicked off with two very Goth-y Crocodiles-era stompers, Going Up and All That Jazz, before they wheeled out the first big, singalong anthem of the night with Rescue, and a cracking new song called Brussels Is Haunted. Not sure how accurate that statement is, but we'll believe them. All My Colours ( Zimbo ) and Never Stop were from the more pop-y end of their spectrum and were fun fun fun.

The first set ended with an immaculate version of Bring On The Dancing Horses - "Shiver and say the word..." - and the word was "loo break", which came in very handy for an audience of a certain age. Some of the punters seemed a bit non-plussed by this intermission ( wot, no choc-ices? ), but previous nights on this tour had apparently followed the same pattern. It was, however, a far cry from the time I saw The Dandy Warhols have a mid-set break in the Bristol O2 Academy and spark up some ciggies...

The second set saw the Bunnymen pleasing the hardcore fans with a pummelling Over The Wall, before an anthemic Seven Seas had us all "kissing the tortoise shell", and why not? And then a gorgeous Nothing Lasts Forever became a monster singalong as the song morphed into Walk On The Wild Side. Mac, who had been hilariously incomprehensible throughout, told us of his repertoire of accents: he can apparently do Scottish and Irish, but if he tries Brummie then nobody can understand him. Most of us agreed we can't understand him at the best of times. But, through the linguistic haze, he came across as somebody who loved the music and was thoroughly enjoying himself, albeit in his own too-cool-for-school, lugubrious way. The main set ended with an unstoppable duo of The Killing Moon and The Cutter, both absolutely euphoric. They encored with a sprightly Lips Like Sugar and then, after another gap in which a few people left for the last bus / train / camel home ( The house lights were still up! A rookie mistake ), a beautiful Ocean Rain to finish a superb evening.

Two nights later and we were in our aforementioned fave venue, Gloucester's gorgeous Guildhall, for a contrasting but equally fantastic gig. This time it was the turn of The Beat, bringing some Caribbean-via-Birmingham sunshine to our grey Shire. Our good friend Caz also came along and it was lovely ( as ever! ) to share the experience with her.

This was our second time of seeing The Beat minus legendary frontman, Rankin' Roger. It was five years to the month since Roger's sad and untimely passing, and it was still a wrench to realise he wasn't on stage. Happily, his son, Rankin' Jr, still carries the flag for his dad ( as one of their songs puts it ) and does a terrific job.

The Beat essentially played the same set we saw them do at the Wychwood Festival last year, but what a set! Kicking off with Stand Down Margaret, they instantly upped the energy levels in the venue by 1000% ( yeah, maths was never my strong point ) and soon had everybody dancing and grinning. Rankin' Jr was on winning form, hurtling around the stage, his passion and joy infectious, his shirt and waistcoat short-lived as he soon discarded those in the Beat-generated heat. For your dancing feet. Alreet?

As ever, a Beat set served to remind us just how many perfect pop songs the band had up their sleeves: Too Nice To Talk To, Hands Off... She's Mine, and their cover of Prince Buster's Rough Rider were all singalong, danceable treats. Carry The Flag, as mentioned above, was Jr's beautifully heartfelt tribute to his late dad, while Twist & Crawl was pure, old skool Ska magic. Complementing Rankin' Jr's livewire stage presence, the band themselves were on fine form, cooking up a heady brew of Ska and Reggae, with flavours of Jazz, and hints of Punk anger in the condemnations of the bad vibe merchants out there.

No Tears Of A Clown this time ( I don't think they played this at Wychwood either ) but the overwhelming positivity, the joyous calls for love and unity, and the red-hot music, more than made up for this. The final duo of an extended Ranking Full Stop, in all its stop/start glory, and ( of course! ) a final Mirror In The Bathroom ( pop perfection! ) finished the set in a sweat-drenched, smiling from ear to ear, kind of way. As expected, the encore was perennial set closer, Jackpot, a perfect end to the evening: "I'm sorry to say I'm on my way / Won't be back for many a day / So goodbye everybody"

 Well, that wasn't quite the end of the evening: most of the crowd moved on from the Guildhall and piled into the Cafe Rene, just down the road, for the "unofficial aftershow party", where we all danced to more Ska 'n' reggae classics into the small hours. A wonderful night!


McSCOTTY said...

Echo and the Bunnymen are one of my favourite live bands. Haven't seen them in a few years and wasn't aware they were touring this year .I will be checking tickets when they come to Glasgow (Kelvingrove Bandstand)

Simon B said...

The Bunnymen are great, aren't they? I've only seen them a couple of times, in recent years, and really wish I'd seen them back in their glory days. At least they're still going, unlike many of their contemporaries.


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