You realise when hearing stuff like The Back of Love that the Bunnymen still retain their air of hypnotic, ethereal, abstract strangeness. It's like musical non-music if you see what I mean.
For a brill audio interview Incendiary did with Bunnymen legend Will Sergeant, hop along to http://www.toazted.com/artistinfo.php?artist=719 find the relevant interview and have a listen. It is a real cracker of an interview (apart from a dodgy and very nervous first question)... Oh, and come back and browse around here whilst you listen in. Thanks to Toazted for the loan of their mic!
The Paradiso is packed to the rafters and there is a discernable excitement in the air. Not only is it two years since the Bunnymen graced these shores with their presence, but tonight is also the showcase for Siberia, a new album which has undoubtedly recaptured the original Bunnymen spirit - and an album that signals a fabulous return to form. The feeling of seeing them just for old time's sake (which was, frankly, manifest last time around) has utterly vanished, replaced by a sense of real anticipation. This, my friends, is an event. A glance at the stage set adds to this feeling, a huge drape behind the equipment adds a theatrical air. There is also a candelabrum boasting six lit candles atop of Will Sergeant's amp. There's even a return of the dry ice (as proved by a test run of the ice machine before the gig), giving a suitably chilly aura.
Of course all of this is mere preparation, and, of course, nothing prepares anyone, even the most hardened Bunnymen watcher, for the harpy-like screech of Will's guitar on the opener, Going Up. It's such an assault and the audience are trapped like (and you will, I'm sure, excuse the pun) rabbits in the headlights. This is a brilliant opening. A crashing version of With a Hip follows, and the band's new-found tightness and muscularity (not seen, frankly, since Evergreen) really comes into play. At this point in the evening I'm stood with a record company executive who spends most of his time watching bands. He's completely transfixed. This is no yawn-athon gig with young Gang of Four wannabes going through the motions. This is the real deal.
A savage, brooding Show of Strength follows on post-haste, and my cup of happiness indeed doth overflow. I could have walked out there and then as the opening three tracks are possibly my favourite Bunnymen songs of them all, but I didn't of course. The Back of Love, which follows, still sinks its teeth in like no other song, as a single release, it's still striking in its unconventionality. You realise when hearing stuff like The Back of Love that the Bunnymen still retain their air of hypnotic, ethereal, abstract strangeness. It's like musical non-music if you see what I mean.
What really warmed the cockles though, was hearing how well the new material stood up next to the classics. Stormy Weather really blossomed live into a marvellously empathic lullaby, whereas In the Margins ran The Killing Moon very close as their signature torch song. No Bunnymen gig would be complete without The Killing Moon and this evening's version was majestic, not too slow and no vocal asides to check its power. Consequently the song packed an enormous emotional punch with Mac's voice sounding utterly fantastic. I have to say that I don't like it when there are too many vocal asides from McCulloch, I love it when he concentrates on singing the songs and setting the tone of the gig. Perhaps he had a cob on because no-one was dancing (this Amsterdam crowd lived up to their laid-back image) but in truth it helped. He really delivered.
I can't repeat often enough what a brilliant gig this was, everything sounded fresh and lively, even Bring On The Dancing Horses, a song that I always found rather too ponderous, worked. It rumbled along quite nicely actually.
I suppose I'll have to pick a couple of highlights from the set or I'll be here till next year foaming at the mouth... Well, here are my three highlights of the night. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
Despite it being a new song, Scissors in the Sand is a bona-fide Bunnymen classic. This particular evening the track was absolutely smashed out; a huge, pulsating container load of a song, driving relentlessly on and on, crashing through all sorts of sonic barriers. It really is heartening to see the band playing new material with such verve and passion. Topping that, indeed topping virtually everything was The Cutter, a song that I've heard so many times that I thought it could hold no more surprises for me. Of course, in this particular case I was proved completely wrong. The Cutter was shattering in this guise, immense in its scope. From Will belting out the opening riff, to the thunder of the drums right through McCulloch's frantic pleas to "spare us the Cutter", this track once again proved a tour de force, a true revelation. The bit in the bridge of the song where Will's guitar kicks in and growls, lifting the song onto a higher plateau was possibly the defining part of the night for most people.
The final song of the night proved to be another wonderful moment. Ocean Rain, the final encore of the night, was truly beautiful; the band's more sprightly interpretation helped immensely, giving the track a wonderfully uplifting feel. Once again, Sergeant's mid-song guitar run proved pivotal to the track shaking out the cobwebs and giving the song fresh impetus. Ocean Rain gave the audience a bitter-sweet note to ponder upon as they filed out of the Paradiso. It was wonderful stuff.
So, there you are. On the evidence of this night there's no doubt that the Bunnymen are still, when on form, possibly the best, most emotively encompassing live act on the circuit. But what do you make of the fact that this band are lauded and held in awe by virtually every other band around yet can't get a hit, are ignored by most of the music press and can still can sell out the Paradiso, and create a new LP that is utterly brilliant and completely ignored if not patronisingly dismissed. Strange days indeed. I can only offer one one piece of (pretty obvious) advice to this set of conundrums. See them at a venue near you. As I said earlier, they are still the real deal.
Words: Richard Foster.