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LIVE: Echo and the Bunnymen – The Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union – 10/03/2024

‘I’m jumbled up /maybe I’m losing my touch?/but you know I didn’t have it anyway!” sings Ian McCulloch, wryly, on the twitching and sinewy ‘Rescue’ from their 1980 album Crocodiles.

Thankfully, he hasn’t lost it tonight in Cardiff’s busy Great Hall, because despite varying reports from previous Echo and the Bunnymen dates on this tour, Mac sounds on fine form. In recent years his voice and their performances have been something of a bag of Revels, you don’t quite know what you are going to get.. That deep, characterful, unmistakable voice weathered by the unstoppable march of time and substances stands as a testament, as he plugs into the flashes of mystery, wonder and bittersweet melancholia that adorn their ‘Songs to Learn and Sing’ record in tonight’s two parter set.

There’s something magical about those early songs; their first four albums were insatiable bodies of work. A big sound that resides in a cathedral of tears, yet down to earth, relatable, and uniquely just The Bunnymen. The insistent ‘Going Up’ that sounds like a promise of meteoric early ambition. The addictive and tumbling ‘Zimbo’ , the jabbering keyboard lines of ‘Never Stop’ with its intense chorus decorated by scratchy riffing. By the time ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’ hoves into view, with it’s wonderful sweeping palette, chiming guitars, and Mac’s delivery that’s steeped in a deep majesty, absurdity and heartbreak of everything falling apart, we are all ready for a sit down. Which is handy as there is an intermission for those of us who have reached or gone beyond middle age (spoiler: which accounts for most in attendance).

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I’ve heard Mac and guitarist Will Sergeant aren’t much on speaking terms these days, which is a bit sad as they have been through so much together since 1978. Clash of personalities? Who can say? Yet the Bunnymen somehow still feel under appreciated. As the two surviving members they create such an intoxicating sound that has drawn a packed crowd tonight in Cardiff, and whilst it doesn’t have the energy of their early ‘80s peak and the few newer songs aren’t as memorable, it’s as cathartic and magisterial in equal measure. It’s forged on an appeal that’s been locked in our hearts for decades. The second half tonight is brilliant.

‘Seven Seas‘ from their classic Ocean Rain album sounds particularly awesome tonight, setting sail its perky chorus bringing a singalong, with Mac looking somewhat surprised that we know the words. These are words you can holler at the top of your lungs, promises and invigorating keepsakes to hold onto when you are lashed by life’s waves.

Then into ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, and their 1990s’ hit from their comeback album Evergreen, which is another one of my favourites. This more earnest strum is about tying to hang onto a memory when it’s slipping away; it’s bittersweet and heart-breaking and straight to the heart with Mac unfurling into a snippet of Lou Reeds ‘Walk on the Wild side’ as everyone sings along. Finishing off with an incredible rendition of ‘The Killing Moon’ if in 2024 you judge a song on how many phones go up into the air to document the moment, then this was an absolute winner. Shrouded in a midnight backdrop, fate will catch us all but Mac’s intensity and mastery are part of what make this a song for the ages.

“With seven tapered knives/ Some of them six feet tall/ We will escape our lives!?” exclaims Mac on “The Cutter “as Sergeant’s guitars shimmer like gleaming knives being unsheathed with menace. Mac increasingly desperate to be spared, but could he cut the mustard? You are damn right he could. Damn right.

Encore number one is the superlative ‘Lips Like Sugar‘, a hit from their self titled 1987 album. it has this endlessly epic and romantic feel, like being on the edge, the edge of love, the edge of the precipice? Who knows? The backdrop is elegant, widescreen and decorated in guitars and underpinned by quick-step drumming; the work is done under the surface. It’s possessed of hints of Bowie, but Mac is Mac, Mac the mouth, and the Bunnymen are unique, the lively riff married to his doleful besotted choruses are sublime.

There’s a second encore of the title track from ‘Ocean Rain’ but most of us have left by that point, it’s nearly 11pm on a Sunday guys! Spilling out into the night, hearts full, holding onto that memory, don’t let it slip, never stop, life is impermanent and all we can do is cling onto the uncertainty of the now. Invigorating and arresting Echo and The Bunnymen are still like a beacon, weathered by time but still endure. A promise.

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Photos: Rachel Graveson

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.