Friday, 30 September 2011

Echo and the Bunnymen @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 28th September

Let's just say it won't go down as one of their better gigs... 1/5

Despite the balmy Indian summer heat, Ian McCulloch sticks with tradition tonight, taking to the stage wrapped in his trademark winter coat. A circular fan placed at the base of his microphone stand regulates his temperature, but not, alas, his temper; by the end of tonight’s alienating shambles, it may well be the only fan left in the building.

Echo and the Bunnymen’s performance is split into two sections: a ‘greatest hits’ set, followed by a run through career highlight Ocean Rain. The first starts unconvincingly, with McCulloch forgetting most of the lyrics to 1999’s Rust – though not, notably, its closing refrain “everything’s going to be alright”, a bitterly ironic promise in hindsight.

At first, any flatness seems attributable to an awkward choice of venue, with an all-seated, no-drinks auditorium significantly curtailing appreciation of a set that, though hardly fulfilling its ‘greatest hits’ billing, features some strong material. But as his ‘banter’ grows increasingly hostile and incoherent, it’s apparent that tonight’s failures lie firmly with McCulloch himself.

If the first set was a solid (if unspectacular) warm-up, the second is a full-on melt-down. What happens in the dividing interval is unclear: give the frontman the benefit of the doubt, and we’re watching a man in the throes of some inexpressibly-deep grief; judge by actions alone, and we’re watching an arrogant and unstable drunk shatter bonds left, right and centre.

Tantrums beget heckles which beget undignified responses from the slurring singer, culminating in a series of walkouts when patience finally expires. Despite the terse atmosphere and depleting audience, the band limp as far as The Killing Moon, at which point the evening takes a further downturn. Those clapping along are berated, bringing the track to a standstill; anatomically-dubious threats are bandied around (“I’ll fucking knee-cap your head off”) and, eventually, McCulloch departs in a strop.

On his return, an insincere apology turns to ash as he resumes his embarrassing display. It’s not just ticket-holders on the receiving end either: band members and crew are similarly mistreated, though most – including a stoic Will Sergeant – opt simply to ignore the petulance. When he storms off for a second time, the exiting string section are given a sympathetic ovation in acknowledgement of their suffering. Again, the band re-emerge, but Ocean Rain is destined to remain unfinished; inexplicably, they restart The Killing Moon, which only compounds the disappointment as it creeps into its fifteenth foul-mouthed minute. After a final, inevitable walk-off, bemusement and anger ripples through the deserting crowd: loyalties questioned, adulation diminished, and money wasted.

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