Sunday, July 22, 2018

Echo & the Bunnymen and Violent Femmes bring the classic alternative canon to life in Orlando double feature

Posted By on Sun, Jul 22, 2018 at 11:54 AM

click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
Echo & the Bunnymen and Violent Femmes, House of Blues, July 201

Only a couple months before their Orlando date was announced, I was looped in on a Facebook thread that bemoaned the lack of historical respect for Echo and the Bunnymen. I didn’t fully agree but I got my friend’s point. Although unquestionable legends of classic alternative rock, the great English band doesn’t exactly have the international profile or mention as, say, the Cure or the Smiths. But I contended that those who know, know. Well, it appears that Orlando’s got my back on that because this show sold out in the kind of hot-ticket time that usually only peaking current acts manage, not cult heroes almost 40 years on.
click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
Only two original members remain – guitarist Will Sergeant and iconic singer Ian McCulloch – but they’re the key ones. Given those two, it would’ve been the treat of a lifetime for deep fans if they would’ve thrown an Electrafixion song into the set. Regardless, this song list was a pretty comprehensive greatest hits parade that would delight any Bunnymen fan (read: very little past the band’s initial 1988 fracture and absolutely nothing off Reverberation). When they open with the one-two punch of “Lips Like Sugar” and “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” you know they’re not fucking around.
click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
Overall, they sounded good and clear, though Will Sergeant’s defining guitars were at times criminally low in the mix. Even if it took a bit to warm up, Ian McCulloch’s majestic voice, with its velvet tone and black-leather sensibility, is forever cool. And he knows it too. Keep on with your bad self, Mac.
click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
click to enlarge Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Echo & the Bunnymen at House of Blues
It’s unreasonable to expect age to not come into play after four decades, but the only thing they needed was a better, stouter mix. Otherwise, they conjured the singular dance of sparkle, mood and mystique that’s proven the Bunnymen eternal and essential.
click to enlarge Violent Femmes at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Violent Femmes at House of Blues
Although the Violent Femmes opened this night, the tour is actually a co-headlined double feature similar to the recent summer blockbuster tour pairing indie giants the Pixies and Weezer. As deeply embedded as their landmark 1983 self-titled debut album is in the alternative music canon, it was but a snapshot of a band that ended up doing some exploring in their career. All nerve, sinew and raw teenage truth, their early folk-punk sound was vivid and unmistakable. But this performance showcased the fuller portrait of a band so well known for doing one very particular thing.
click to enlarge Violent Femmes at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Violent Femmes at House of Blues
Everybody remembers the famous xylophone in “Gone Daddy Gone.” Other than that bit of unusual instrumentation, though, few would ascribe a horn section, a cajón, a gong or an absolutely elephantine contrabass saxophone with the Violent Femmes’ famous signature. Yet there they all were on stage.
click to enlarge Violent Femmes at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Violent Femmes at House of Blues
Furthermore, they did one cool bit where they performed a two-song bluegrass-style acoustic set around a single mic (playing “Country Death Song” and “Jesus Walking on the Water” off their underrated and divisive 1984 album Hallowed Ground) where frontman Gordon Gano introduced both banjo and fiddle into the proceedings.
click to enlarge Violent Femmes at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Violent Femmes at House of Blues
click to enlarge Violent Femmes at House of Blues - JEN CRAY
  • Jen Cray
  • Violent Femmes at House of Blues
When you have a string of zeitgeist-capturing anthems off a single magnum opus that includes “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Kiss Off” and “Please Do Not Go,” it’s hard to resist the box of popularity. But the decision to showcase more than just their hits, including some material that intensely polarized fans, made this performance a dynamic blend of classic vigor and surprising twists.

Follow Bao on Twitter (@baolehuu)
Email Bao: baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com

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