Echo And The Bunnymen Live Review: McCulloch and Sergeant still produce the magic – and mercurialness – of old

Precarious as ever, Echo & The Bunnymen pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Just

Echo & The Bunnymen

by Danny Eccleston |
Updated on

Echo & The Bunnymen

Roundhouse, London

March 8, 2024


You’d have got long odds on Echo & The Bunnymen remaining an operational unit in 2024. First, there are the ongoing lifestyle challenges singer Ian McCulloch – at the should-know-better age of 64 – continues to set himself. Then there’s the somewhat distant relationship he maintains with the group’s other creative mainspring, lead guitarist Will Sergeant. Finally, here’s a group whose romantic/eccentric refusal to play whatever game was going has often ended in some kind of meltdown – multiple defeats wrenched from the jaws of victory.

Yet here they are, taking the stage in familiar gloom for the sixth show of a ‘Songs To Learn And Sing 2024’ tour that will take them up and down the UK, through continental Europe and the States, returning to these shores in August. It would be a testing itinerary even for a group in the first flush of youth.

Precariousness is baked into the Bunnymen, and few members of this rammed Roundhouse audience will not have experienced pre-gig trepidation to go with their excitement. But even as the first notes of opener Going Up ring out, it’s clear the Bunnymen sound is on point: a ringing, soaring thing, but delicate, like it could crash, or be crushed – free of the bombast that made their mid-’80s rivals bigger and sturdier but less Parnassian. Sergeant and McCulloch’s current bandmates – bassist Stephen Brannan, drummer Simon Finley, rhythm guitarist Peter Riley and keyboard player Mike Smith – have their work cut out filling the shoes of the inimitable Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas (the Byronic drummer will be 35 years gone this June 18), but it’s been a long time since either have been in harness. That was then, this is now.

McCulloch walks a tightrope as usual. He hits the key notes but there’s enough croakiness in between to have you crossing your fingers for shows to come. Never Stop and Bedbugs And Ballyhoo, with their tongue-twister lyrics, sit at the edge of his current capabilities onstage. Also as usual, the frosted peaks scaled by the songs are offset by his prosaic between-song chunter, now more gravelly and hard to parse (although he seems at one point to aim a pop at poetry, all poetry). Perhaps that’s just as well.

Despite his struggles, or maybe because of them, there’s an abundance of magical Mac moments. Rescue, Over The Wall and The Cutter all explode and the years fall away. While the future is here, too, in two songs yet to appear on disc: the wistful Brussels Is Haunted and The Unstoppable Force suggest that long-threatened 14th studio album may not be so far away after all. In an online interview with the Irish News in 2021 McCulloch remembered Brussels as the first city outside of the UK he’d ever visited. The song itself speaks of “the beauty of melancholy”, a knowing nod to the essential spark that, even tonight, illuminates his band.

The final encore is, perhaps inevitably, Ocean Rain – the title track of the exquisite career-best album they released 40 years ago this May. Sergeant’s guitar filigree is like a Siren’s song. McCulloch, having got this far, is not to fall, though the crowd’s support on the wailing “beneath the waves” refrain is heaven sent. He’s made it to the lifeboat, they’ve pulled him from the surf.

Victory from the jaws of defeat? Let’s say a high-scoring draw.


Set 1:

Going Up

All That Jazz



Brussels Is Haunted

All My Colours (Zimbo)

Never Stop

Bring On the Dancing Horses

Set 2:

Show of Strength

Over the Wall

Seven Seas

Nothing Lasts Forever / Walk on the Wild Side

Unstoppable Force

Bedbugs and Ballyhoo

The Killing Moon

The Cutter


Lips Like Sugar

Encore 2:

Ocean Rain

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us