Echo & The Bunnymen gig @ The Sage, Newcastle – Review

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Echo & the Bunnymen are a new-wave, post-punk band who enjoyed success in the 80s with hits like ‘Lips like Sugar’ and ‘Seven Seas’. They achieved significant success in 1983 with their first UK top 10 single ‘The Cutter’ which climbed to number 8 in the chart. Their 1984 album ‘Ocean’s Rain’ reached number 4 and is still regarded today as their landmark album. For lovers of bands like Joy Division, The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees this will be right up your alley.

Fans of popular television series such as ‘Stranger Things’  may already be familiar with their haunting single ‘Nocturnal Me’ which plays over episode 5’s closing credits in the first season. As well as ‘My Kingdom’ and ‘The Killing Moon’ which featured on the much discussed teen-drama ‘13 Reasons Why’.

Echo & the Bunnymen returned to stages across the world to play their orchestral re-workings of classic songs for the first time in anticipation for the release of their new LP ‘The Stars, The Ocean & The Moon’.  I was eager to hear them live for the first time.

The band is in their 40th year since forming. Nothing lasts forever but the Scouse indie icons are having a good crack at trying. They are now comprised of lead singer Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson

On 30th May, I hopped on a train to The Sage, Gateshead. The venue is an architectural jewel along the south bank of the Tyne. I was impressed by the sheer beauty of its design and quality of its acoustics – the venue was perfectly suited for hosting Echo & The Bunnymen.

Opening the night’s proceedings was ENATION. I hadn’t heard of the band before the gig so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was clear the audience were only there to see Echo & the Bunnymen as the majority decided to stand out in the foyer having a drink. It was a very small turnout to their performance which seemed a little unfair that they hadn’t been given their chance to shine. However, I think the audience missed out big time because Jonathon Jackson’s singing alone had me hooked. It’s not often that a support act catches my attention, but I genuinely found their music engaging and have been listening to their music since.

The trio dressed in matching burgundy suits (goodness how they lasted under the heat of the stage lights) for their 45 minute set.

As the hall started to fill up, I noticed I was probably one of the youngest people there. It wasn’t a surprise to me since my music taste does seem to align with that of my Dad’s generation. I was a little concerned that the atmosphere wouldn’t be quite as lively as I’m accustomed to, especially given the fact that an all-seated venue isn’t great for a bit of a boogie.

There was a short interval in which the orchestra played a few songs, before Echo & the Bunnymen strolled out onto the stage to play their 18 song set. Their frontman, Ian McCulloch, was dressed in his leather jacket and wearing a pair of jet-black shades inside like he was the coolest rocker in the building.

For the first two thirds of the set, the crowd was stationary, with only a few people braving a dance in their seats or at the sidelines. But when the setlist reached their popular classics, such as ‘Seven Seas’, the audience begun to loosen up and soon the whole crowd was up on their feet.

McCulloch’s voice isn’t the same as it used to be, coming across as more gravelly than in the past, but he seemed to have adapted his techniques to play to his strengths.

The band played old hits such as ‘Bedbugs and Ballyhoo’ and ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’, each rearranged to include the lush string quartet.

They finished their main set with a powerful rendition of ‘The Cutter’, which left he crowd wanting more.

The connection of McCulloch with the audience was fantastic, as they seemed more like old friends. The crowd playfully heckled the band. Although at one point the frontman was forced to interrupt a song to blunty tell someone in the front row to “shut the f**k up”. However, I found his frank attitude to be humourous and showed that after all his time doing this his personality has stayed unvarnished and grounded.

The highlight for me was their second encore in which they played a slower, piano-driven, acoustic version of ‘Killing Moon’. It was beautifully intricate and majestic as the room was lit up with lights like stars and McCullough voice hauntingly echoed in my ears. For all their years doing this, they haven’t lost their edge.

Overall, I had an amazing night and enjoyed being immersed in such a positive atmosphere. The visual effects were impressive with strobes, lasers and even fairylights and gothic chandeliers set up on the stage.

Echo & The Bunnymen’s new album ‘The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon’ will be released on the 5th October. You can preorder from the bands online store at:

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