Echo in the Darkness

echorainWhen bands determine to tour complete works from their prime creative period, we are sometimes offered a rare chance to reacquaint ourselves with an original artistic vision, and a band in truly top form. Such was the case last Thursday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland as Echo & The Bunneymen returned to the bay area to deliver their seminal work, “Ocean Rain” complete with backing orchestra. The original studio recording of Ocean Rain in 1984 was a product of a band at the peak of their artistic brilliance. It included lush orchestral arrangements that perfectly fit the dark, jaunty jigs and gothic avant-garde excursions that alternate through the album. It’s an eclectic work that while not exactly a concept album, hangs together and is best appreciated from start to finish. Hits “The Killing Moon” and “Seven Seas” well represent the overall record and are the most recognizable tracks. At the time of its release, “Ocean Rain” certainly met a new standard for what was possible from the goth-rock movement that included such acts as “Siouxsie and the Banshees”, “Bauhaus”, and “The Cure” who by the mid ’80’s were pushing their artistry far beyond early punk roots.

echoianAs presented at the Fox with live orchestra, “Ocean Rain” was a revelation, from the first track, “Silver” to the last. The orchestra was integrated perfectly into the mix and was much more prevalent than on record.  The strings, horns, and percussionists propelled their sound forward, accenting the drama of every song. Singer Ian McCulloch’s voice was in great form and has aged like fine wine. Guitarist Will Sergent brought out his rare assortment of guitars and accented the music with his unusual, attentive and precise playing. We were treated to every track, including the decidedly non commercial, brooding wonders “The Yo Yo Man” and “Thorn of Crowns” which Ian introduced by asking “are you ready for this?”. The whole ensemble brought the house down with the final titular track “Ocean Rain” arguably one of their greatest works and a fan favorite in concert since it’s release over 25 years ago. Echo got this all perfectly right – it was brilliant to go about presenting this powerful album with strings, winds, and added percussion making this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After an intermission, the band carried on without the backing orchestra, as a five piece, cranking through hits such as “Rescue”, “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, and a cover of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, ending their encores with “Lips Like Sugar” at which point Ian was clearly exhausted! Also included were some tracks from the last few excellent recordings, including an equally great new song released this month. This second half of the show was as good as, and in parts better than, any of their prior tours during the last 20 years. The band favors minimal lighting, in deep blues and purples, as they labor away in the darkness delivering stellar performances that should remind one and all patrons that this is one of the most important bands in rock. And how can you argue with a lyric like this on a crisp October evening:

Flames on your skin of snow turn cold
Cold is the wind that blows through my headstone

U2 “in the round” – Vision and Visibility

u2thestartOkay, summer recess is over.  Time to reopen my twitter account (maybe), dust off my blog (definitely) and get back to it!  Lots of bands out on the concert circuit made the summer enjoyable – I wrote about most of the summer series – from Foreigner (with replacement singer), Yes (with replacement singer), Pink (no need for a replacement singer), Yeah Yeah Yeahs (sounds like Siouxsie anyway), and Porcupine Tree (awesome vocalist)

u2shipFinal show before the fall was U2. Was planning to go to Boston this fall, and was able to time it so as to see the U2/Snow Patrol show.  It’s billed as the U2 360 tour and sports a massive stage resembling a space ship. Though there was tons of technology on display, the band seemed in their element – relaxed and unforced, in as fine a form as ever, highlighting new and old material and even breaking out the seldom played title track from “Unforgettable Fire“.  Best track – “Stuck in the Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” acoustic which seemed appropriate for these times. The material from their latest release “No Line on the Horizon” came off better live than on record, with a stirring rendition of “Moment of Surrender” showing one and all that Bono remains a superior statesman for rock-n’-soul. We can all use of bit of surrender to “vision over visibility” – see if you can catch the flight when U2 comes near.

p.s. only complaint? we completely missed Snow Patrol as it took 2.5 hours to drive from Boston to the stadium, some 30 miles away – awful – if that date’s opener had been Muse I would have “blown a gasket” sitting in that traffic.