Reviews

Echo & the Bunnymen: Dancing Horses [DVD]

Mac the Mouth provides a curious evening's viewing on this live Bunnymen DVD release.


Echo & the Bunnymen

Dancing Horses

MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Live at Shepherds Bush Empire
Contributors: echo & the bunnymen, ian mccolloch, will sergeant
Label: MVD Entertainment Group
UK Release Date: 2007-04-23
US Release Date: 2007-06-26
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

The journey of Liverpool's other famous musicians is a somewhat incestuous and certainly messy one. After Pete Wylie and Julian Cope left Ian McColloch and their band the Crucial Three to form Wah! and the Teardrop Explodes, respectively, McColloch hooked up with guitarist Will Sergeant in 1978. Together, along with their drum machine, Echo, they formed the neo-psychedelic post-punk genius of Echo & the Bunnymen. After scoring varied successes on the UK and US charts in their first ten years together, McColloch left the band for a solo career. Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson, and drummer Pete de Freitas (who replaced the original Echo a year into the band) decided to carry on without McColloch, but before they could record, de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Sergeant and Pattinson continued on under what is considered by both critics and fans as false pretense, releasing Reverberation as an Echo album in name only. McColloch released his first solo effort, Candleland, the same year to a deservedly better reception. After both sides languished for a few years, McColloch and Sergeant formed Electrafixion -- amping up the guitars to prove relevance in the throes of grunge. In 1997, nearly 20 years after first coming together, Pattinson rejoined the group and Echo & the Bunnymen had returned. Four studio albums and another ten years, we find the Bunnymen marking their 30th anniversary with a new DVD of two-year old material, Dancing Horses.

Showing themselves to be still relevant, if only as the elder statesmen of the post-punk movement, the Bunnymen pull out 15 classics from their catalog to complement the four songs off the then-new Siberia release at this Shepherds Bush Empire show recorded 01 November 2005. An uncomplicated stage creatively lit to accompany each song is all that adorns the stripped-down and raw pub sound of this latest incarnation of the band. Gone is the smoothed-out (overproduced?) gloss of 1987's self-titled pinnacle or McColloch's Candleland. Instead we are presented with a sometimes-ragged-yet-appropriate sounding McColloch, and trademark swirling guitar work from Sergeant.

Opening the show with a their dissonant early '80s Crocodiles' "Going Up" and segueing into Heaven Up Here's "With a Hip" sets the tone, but it surprisingly isn't until "Stormy Weather" that the band really feels like it's connecting. "Stormy Weather" is one of those songs that helped garner Siberia its "return to form" acclaim. It's the trademark Bunnymen combination of Sergeant's cascading guitar and McColloch's vocals all mixed in an '80s stew of keyboards and live drums. But the band quickly moves back to "classic set list" mode with another Heaven Up Here cut, "Show of Strength", with its post-punk, gothic roots of heavy bass and mid-song tempo changes on display. Atmosphere is the goal here. While "Bring on the Dancing Horses" gains a new lease on life via the creative intro, it's McColloch's scatting and emotional delivery (voice appropriately cracking during the "brittle heart" repetition) that allows the song to rise above what could have been a rote performance of an overplayed hit.

Things get a little sonically murky with the hollow-sounding rendition of "The Disease" functioning as a lead-in for Siberia's sub-par offering "Scissors in the Sand", despite Sergeant's engaging guitar and McColloch's menacing vocals. But the guys bounce back with a trio of early catalog notables: "All that Jazz", "The Back of Love", and "The Killing Moon". The former, another Crocodiles contribution, is a driving rocker for these guys. "The Back of Love" is a ferocious, sweeping display of post-punk power that is both sonically and structurally cut from the same cloth as "All that Jazz". This crowd pleaser off 1983's Porcupine finds the band reeling it in where appropriate by balancing the charging Space Invaders-like flourishes with quieter moments. The subdued approach to "The Killing Moon" (forever re-appropriated for a new generation as the lead-in for the original theatrical release of Donnie Darko) accurately captures the original composition and builds upon it in this live setting. McColloch's voice often sounded strained on these last couple of performances, but rarely to the detriment of the song or presentation.

Siberia's throwback strengths are again on display with "In the Margins" -- complete with ringing keyboards and classically themed Bunnymen lyrics about starting out someplace dark and having hope to move someplace better emotionally. "I see now / How life wins / When all that's left is love". Shortly thereafter, we come to the part of the show where Mac the Mouth's crotchety demeanor really starts to shine through. Near the end of the show, McColloch invites the crowd to shout any questions they may have, but "don't shout a song title!" And when they continue to scream songs titles, he gets more snippy and admonishes them further before blasting through a few more tunes.

The proper set ends with the show's highest point -- "The Cutter". Boasting McColloch's strongest vocal performance of the night and Sergeant's eastern-sounding guitar work, the song delivers on all counts. Then things get a little weird again. The break between the main set and the two-song first encore is real-time. So the presentation lazily cuts between an empty stage and the band standing around just backstage drinking, until they finally return for "Nothing Lasts Forever", the lone Evergreen cut, and an excellent rendition of "Lips Like Sugar". But before the band breaks in, McColloch makes someone wipe down the stage because it's apparently wet where he is (never mind that during the intro to "Lips Like Sugar", he dramatically kicks over a container of water, splattering the stage again). Then amid a smattering of f-bombs and comments like "it's always nice to be down in this neck of the woods" and "thanks for coming" he bitches that just once he'd like intelligent comments shouted from the crowd.

This whole affair is, of course, followed by more real-time faux encore posturing, before McColloch humbly offers that "if all goes well, this next song is the best song of all time." Then the band effectively nails "Ocean Rain", and McColloch leaves the stage with a "You've just seen the best band of all time." Need a shot of confidence there, Mac?

Both the 16:9 widescreen video and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio presentations are excellent, and the song selection favors the long-time fan with vintage song choices. The lone extra is a substantial set of interviews with McColloch and Sergeant that cover band influences through Siberia release questions. The two are obviously in different locations (McColloch appears to be outside, while Sergeant looks to be in a backstage room of some kind) and the questions appear on title cards before cutting between the responses. In all, Dancing Horses is a fine collection of songs, and probably the closest you'll ever really want to come to spending money on a Bunnymen show.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.