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all words: Jenn Bress
all photos: Julia Benton

It’s been years since I’ve seen Echo and the Bunnymen. They last time they came through DC, they played at the Black Cat and I’ve heard numerous reports that they played a euphoric set including playing the album Ocean Rain from start to finish. If you know Echo and the Bunnymen, chances are, like me, your point of entry was that album, or a “Best of” collection. You’re probably familiar with all the hits “The Killing Moon” (featured so iconically in Donnie Darko), “Lips like Sugar” or perhaps the single “Bring on the Dancing Horses” from the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack.

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E&TBM were going to play their first two critically acclaimed albums “Crocodiles” and “Heaven Up” here in entirety, making the night less hit parade and more pf a brooding post-punk treasure trove. On crutches, I arrived at around 9:30 in a panic thinking they would have started but I was lucky. At the door, Scamus tells me I could have called ahead to reserve a seat, but they were all reserved. Good to know! I hobble upstairs to the bar above the VIP hoping someone doesn’t show to claim theirs. The entire place was packed, the crowd was a nice mesh of grown-ups and seasoned youth. I notice a seat that was reserved remains unclaimed and I nab it.

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I’ve got a great view of opening act Kelly Stoltz’ (who I missed) parents, he in a sport coat, her in a little old lady floral applique sweater, they must be 70. E&TBM begin to a whir of claps and cheers, McCullough takes to a dark stage and opening song “Going Up” the first track off of Crocodiles (1980), sets the tone. CHILLS. Did someone cryogenically freeze this band? No, if you’ve followed their history, you’ll know Ian toured solo for a while until they reunited in 1997. So how can the melodramatic crooning of Ian’s voice be as crystal as it is on the “Shine so Hard” ep (1981)? You could convince me this was E&TBM in their original formation.

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Third song in, “Monkeys” and we’re all on the same icecap floating through a midnight seascape on an icy joy division-meets Velvet Underground guitar riff. The stage is appropriately dark, no flashing colorful light show, lights only for effect and emotional climax, an emotionally synchronized lightening storm. The stage is decorated with fishing net like E&tBM have been ensnared by a drunken sailor and delivered to the stage like an offering to Poseidon. The bland tans of the inconspicuous backdrop are bronzed with the emotional power behind each guilded word that crests from Ian’s lips. The no frills stage presence doesn’t matter because “stars are stars and they shine so hard”.

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Then “Rescue” bursts forth with a huge cheer from the crowd. Kelly Stoltz’s parents are dancing!! There is magic happening and it cures brittle bones and resurrects lost souls. Skip ahead to “Heaven up Here” (1981), the second album to be performed. Three songs in and “Over the Wall” begins. I I could swear Ian is possessed by Peter Murphy, the rest of the band assumes a Bauhaus like stance.

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And then there were the encores, all 5 of them, holy shit. So, I placed a wager with the dude sitting next to me. I said “ I bet they play 4 songs: “Killing Moon”, “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, “Ocean Rain” and “Lips like Sugar”. Sure enough, Lips like Sugar pours from Ian’s majestic red lips and dude and I are using his cane like a microphone. Bring on the Dancing follows and then, unexpectedly their 1997 hit “Nothing Last forever”. It’s a slow ballad and I’m so wishing they played “Silver” or “Ocean Rain” instead, but not my call. “The Killing Moon” is particularly jarring, Ian’s voice cracks with emotion and the stage is pretty much dark except for the strobe of a bright white light between “the Killing time (BLAST)…unwillingly mine”. OMGF so good. So, I got three out of four, and then “The Cutter” is played as I’m wobbling my way down to the merch table to see if there’s anything good (not really, tons of Kelly Stoltz stuff and non-impressive E&TBM tou shirts). THE CUTTER IS THE PERFECT SONG TO END THIS NIGHT. Euphoric, sentimental but still brooding and masculine. I thought I’d sneak out to beat folks but this is just too fucking good of a show. I couldn’t really bare to miss a second of it.

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