After the highly successful Ocean Rain gigs of 2008, the Bunnymen have used their current tour to revisit two other albums from their illustrious history. In typical understated Mac-fashion, Ian McCulloch has dubbed Ocean Rain as the greatest album of all time, so gigs featuring Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here certainly have a lot to live up to.
Tonight was the second night of two gigs at Liverpool Olympia, a venue that can be added to the list of weird and wonderful venues that the band have played down the years.
It’s an impressively ramshackle venue that has echoes of the pre-refurbished Royal Court – even down to the serving of warm canned lager. That is normally a no-no but, given how cold it was inside the venue, anything warm was a godsend.
They ran through the albums without deviating from the original track lists and included a number of songs that had not been played for a good few years, if at all. The band were camouflaged to the hilt; a nod to the early days, with even Will Sergeant getting in on the act with his army fatigues, barely visible through the dry ice.
The Crocodiles part of the show felt like a greatest hits collection given the strength of the songs on their debut album; Going Up opens proceedings and is a perfect opener. This is followed by Stars Are Stars, a song that I wish that they would play more often, perhaps after this tour it may stay on the set list.
Rescue finds the fans’ vocals in good order – the communal singing is positively encouraged by Mac. He was in good voice and humour too; though he did have to berate a fan that had called out for a song; obviously not getting the concept of the album-playback show.
The early single Pictures on the Wall sounded great tonight but for some reason it’s a song that McCulloch doesn’t seem to like. Villiers Terrace included the ever-present nod to the Door’s Roadhouse Blues in the middle, the only detour from the original arrangements of the songs on the original Crocodiles album.
They disappeared for 20 minutes for a slight set change before moving on to the Heaven Up Here play back. Show of Strength was just that and was followed by a rattling version of With a Hip. The highlight of any a Bunnymen gig is Over The Wall, where Sergeant with his impressive array of guitars – I lost count at four – can let loose. The songs on Heaven Up Here are obviously the more developed but on the evidence of tonight’s gig, the debut album is a more consistent set of songs.
For an encore they call on all points in their career. Lips Like Sugar opens and is then followed by Bring On The Dancing Horses another crowd favourite.
Tonight’s version of Killing Moon is as perfect as I have ever heard, with Mac’s voice teasing every last drop of emotion from the song in tandem with Sergeant’s guitar work, which was simply sublime.
The Cutter as a closer is played with the same force of the other songs from the night. As the time was inching towards midnight, so too were the crowd who had taxis and trains to catch.
It was good to see the band taking some risks with the set list – hopefully some of these can stay in the stay in the set when normal service is resumed next year. A new album would be nice too, hopefully one that they will be playing in similar fashion in its entirety 15 years down the line.
Photography by Brian Roberts