Echo and the Bunnymen Live @ The Olympia Theatre, Dublin 18 Feb 2015

How many of us can pinpoint the exact moment we fell in love with music, the precise point in time when we ceased to be a casual fan and became completely and utterly smitten?

For me that moment came on the 7 December 1985. Still in my teens and harbouring a growing interest in music, I went along to the now defunct SFX venue on Dublin’s northside. A live music virgin, Echo and the Bunnymen would be the second gig I ever attended; my previous sole foray having been a particularly uncomfortable night surrounded by screaming teens at a Frankie Goes To Hollywood show.

But the Bunnymen represented something different, and that night turned out to be something of a life changing experience. I walked away from that show consumed with the idea of playing in a band; the power and majesty of the Bunnymen that night was the catalyst for me to pick up a guitar, an act that completely altered and shaped the direction my life took for the next 13 years.Echo and the Bunnymen -live

Given all that, the return of Echo and the Bunnymen to Dublin some thirty years after that show was always going to hold personal significance.  My love affair with their music has endured to this day, but with that, there is always that nervous anxiety around seeing returning idols all these years later. Of the original line-up, only singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant remain; the core creative force perhaps, but anyone who witnessed that 85 show will testify to the marked contribution made by bassist Les Pattison and the sadly departed Pete DeFreitas to the bands sound.

Some twenty minutes late, the newest incarnation of the Bunnymen take to the Olympia stage – the early signs are promising.  A blistering version of the title track off their debut album Crocodiles is followed by a big crowd favourite from the same record; ‘Rescue’ opens with one of those trademark Sergeant riffs and we collectively swoon. What’s immediately striking is just how good Mac’s voice has held up down through the years – with the rock god lips, shades and hair, he does a passable impression of the Dorian Gray of rock.  ‘Seven Seas’ stirs the crowd into action; the instantly recognisable opening chords met with cheers of approval. Newer songs ‘Holy Moses’ and ‘Constantinople’ work better live than on record, but even Mac at his most bullish would find it hard to make a case for these songs being on a par with their earlier material.

Will Sergeant -Echo and the Bunnymen‘Bring On the Dancing Horses’ flicks the switch; one of the 80s purest expressions of perfect pop music is turned into a mass sing-a-long. ‘ The Killing Moon’ follows the same route; this is Will Sergeant’s finest moment, as he conjures magic with that guitar break, you know the one, pure six string majesty. ‘The Cutter’ propels the set to new heights; everything seems to click into gear as the band hit their stride for one of the highlights of the night.

They encore with an extended version of as Mac labels it, ‘the sexiest song ever written’; ‘Lips Like Sugar’ may not be quite  that, but it glides along with a gossamer grace, trademark Bunnymen.

Even for a lifelong fan, the show is not without its flaws. On at least three occasions, songs are taken on a meandering Rock history lesson, as Mac works in classic tunes from Lou Reed, The Doors, James Brown and more. These add more flab than weight to the set – omitted classics like ‘Back of Love’ and ‘Silver’ would have served to add substantially more. ‘Nothing Ever Lasts Forever’ is one of a handful of limp versions of excellent songs and while the audience sing-a-longs on ‘The Killing Moon’ and ‘Dancing Horses’ get the crowd going, they do so at the expense of hearing these songs actually played all the way through.

But it’s in the final moments of this show when all is forgiven. In 1985 the band closed the show drenched in the melancholy  blue of ‘Ocean Rain’. Fast forward 30 years: the link between the Bunnymen of old and new is forged; they finish with the same song, the same gorgeous tear stained shades of blue. In that moment, we succumb, screaming from beneath the waves, all resistance broken.

30 years ago, I stood outside the Gresham Hotel for two hours dressed in a funeral suit, waiting. Ian McCulloch emerged, bleary-eyed, a tousled haired giant, a black-clad young god. I thrust a ticket stub towards him, the first and last time I ever sought an autograph. He signed it ‘Ta!…Ian’ while I stood looking on, mute, star-struck, helpless. Wednesday 18 February 2015 was never going to be just another show, in reality, it was closer to a pilgrimage, a chance to return the thanks for thirty years of music and a life redirected, perhaps even saved by rock and roll.