When 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.
As 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