Sunday, 21 April 2013

Review of James and Echo and the Bunnymen at Brixton Academy, London: April 20, 2013

He looks like a dashing pirate these days. Bald head, goatee beard, Indian-style baggy Buddhist trousers. With his flashing earpiece he even looks a bit like Borg-era Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise.

Yes, Tim Booth used to have a lot more hair than this. I remember that charity gig in the pouring rain at the Piece Hall in Halifax in aid of elephants or something back in 1989. He was more hirsute than Mark Ford then and that's saying something. Anything. Your silence is deafening. Pay me in kind.

And the uplifting, life-enhancing, breathtaking songs of that time are still James at their glorious, beautiful best. A blistering opening tonight, featuring a magnificent How Was It For You?, reminded every 40-something in the crowd that this is band that doesn't do gigs. They do shows. Dazzling, thrilling shows.

Hardened arteries softened gently as anthem followed anthem, Tim swaggering like a shaman and dancing like a marionette with its strings half-cut. Laughter lines deepened everywhere as he left the stage and walked aloft on the crowd. Like Jesus walking on the waves of Galilee. Just like Fred Astaire.

I believe in happiness. I believe in love. I believe he fell to earth from somewhere high above. How else can you explain such timeless showmanship from someone who was once so Whalley Range-poor he sold his body for medical experiments?

Yes, he lost his way with the new stuff half-a-dozen songs in. He even sat out the long dirgey one himself and let the electronic fiddler get on with it. (Bin that fiddle, boys, bin it.) Sure, the sound was badly mixed and over-modded. And of course his new stuff is going to be mid-life miserable compared to the world-conquering glory of the Millionaires days.

But what a reward we a got for our lumbago. Sit Down was a singalong piece of genius the day it was written. Add a handsome ten-person choir plus thousands of well-oiled Brixton voices and the message was clear: take that, Elbow, with your One Day Like This nonsense. We've been doing this better than anyone for years.

And what an encore. Sometimes - the most thrilling song about a storm every written. He put his ear to mine and I swear I can hear the sea. And Laid. You think you're so pretty. Complete with a handful of James children front of stage jumping joyfully up and down.

Here's a mirror with your name on, Tim. We're missing you now you've gone.

Echo and the Bunnymen were on at 7.40pm. It felt plain wrong to see one of the finest indie bands of the 80s crammed on the edge of the stage warming up for another. Ian McCulloch still looks and sounds great. Standing stock-still in donkey jacket-trench coat wearing those indoor shades and lighting up the occasional choker. Measure by measure, drop by drop, the crowd grew, warmed and remembered how good and daft The Cutter, Bring on the Dancing Horses and Seven Seas were. Ian provided the funniest moment of the night: "This is the greatest song ever written," he said. Up rose the first bars of The Killing Moon. Good song, but not even the greatest song about moons ever written. "Told you it was," he said at the end. Pound for pound and taking stock, £38 was worth every bean. Of all the treasure still unlocked, the love the Academy found must never stop. And at least Ian kept his shirt on - none of us are toned as we were in 1983.


  1. I was there - and you are right - this gig was a stunner and we need to see more of BOTH these legends!

  2. David

    Great review, terrific exuberant piece of writing. You should always write your reviews as soon as you get home, whacked out of your gourd, ears still ringing from the sturm und drang. Just like when you were the Bradford T & A's own little Nick Kent.

    The highlight of the Peace Hall elephant gig was Steve Diggle with his band Buzzcocks FOC. I have the pictures somewhere. Diggle's band promptly kicked him down the stairs and became The High, the great jangling Manchester band who coulda been contenders.

    Glad you feel you got your money's worth. At £38 I'd have wanted a t-shirt, a shoeshine and a line of coke. Looking forward to your next review, unless it's one of those Lemon Jelly skiffle bands you always seem partial to.