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Echo and the Bunnymen Bring Rants and Covers to Tiny New York Show

October 19, 2009 2:46 PM ET

For Echo & The Bunnymen, arrogance is the elixir of inspiration — it's almost like egomania is the drug that makes them dream, leading them into states of dementia, delirium, and — if they're lucky — musical splendor. When the post-punk sex mystics played a rare intimate small-club date at New York's Mercury Lounge on Saturday night, Ian McCulloch was definitely his awesomely arrogant self, never removing his shades, rambling in his thick Liverpool brogue. It was a glorious show, in part because McCulloch knew he had the crowd in his paw. In the middle of "Rescue," he began a rant as the band vamped behind him, then instructed them, "Quiet down — this is a speech. If I play my cards right it might be a soliloquy. Can anyone spell soliloquy?" It was that kind of gig.

Coasting on their excellent new album The Fountain, the Bunnymen had confidence to spare, although they only touched on the album briefly with "Think I Need It Too." (Mac's introduction to that one was, "I can't remember what's next — aaaaah, this one's a classic!") Will Sargent had his usual pose of monastic concentration, crouching alone with his guitar. McCulloch declared himself the greatest poet since William Shakespeare, asked if his hoarse voice made him sound like Alec Guinness, and inquired if Billy Crystal was in the house. (He wasn't, obviously.) He also mused about his favorite Dallas episode, and the crowd ate it up even though barely a word was comprehensible. His voice was startlingly strong, especially in the stripped-down acoustic tremors of "The Killing Moon," interrupted only by an audience member shrieking "My God you're hot!"

"Villiers Terrace" became a medley with the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," while "Bring on the Dancing Horses" sounded like a casual elegy for John Hughes. For the finale, "Nothing Lasts Forever" became a love song bridging New York and Liverpool, as Mac stretched it into a medley of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and John Lennon's "Don't Let Me Down," finally vamping into Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" and Lou Reed's "Coney Island Baby" ("I wanna play football for the coach — Liverpool's coach!"). It was a thrillingly insane capper to a thrillingly insane evening.

Set list:

"Going Up"
"Rescue"
"Villiers Terrace"/"Roadhouse Blues"
"Forgotten Fields"
"Seven Seas"
"Bring On The Dancing Horses"
"All That Jazz"
"Think I Need It Too"
"The Back Of Love"
"The Killing Moon"
"The Cutter"
"Nothing Lasts Forever"/"Walk on the Wild Side"/"Don't Let Me Down"/"In The Midnight Hour"/"Coney Island Baby"

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