Following successful recent area appearances at Riot Fest in 2015 and at Northerly Island alongside the Violent Femmes in 2017, Echo & The Bunnymen returned to Chicago Saturday night for a headlining set at the Vic Theatre.
While the group is touring in support of their new album The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon (October, BMG), which attempts to put a new spin on the Echo canon via updated arrangements thanks to the inclusion of an orchestra, the group played it a bit safer on stage Saturday, opting to indulge nostalgia instead.
For just about an hour and a half, the group rolled out a set that hasn’t really changed on this current tour, focusing on their initial run and largely ignoring most of their recorded output since getting back together for the Evergreen release in 1997.
While original bassist Les Pattinson was on board for that album, he left shortly thereafter and today founding members Will Sergeant (guitar) and vocalist Ian McCulloch are backed by a tight four-piece band featuring bass, drums, keyboard and additional guitar.
“Hi, Chicago!” said McCulloch on stage Saturday at the Vic as the group looked back nearly forty years for the first track off their 1980 debut. “It’s nice to be back,” continued the frontman, launching into “Going Up.” The band continued the early focus shortly thereafter with another track from Crocodiles, moving to “Rescue” third in the set.
Much of McCulloch’s on stage banter Saturday was difficult to make out. But his frustration with the Vic Theatre seating arrangement was clear.
“Anyone who wants to fill these seats, come down,” said McCulloch of the empty seats he could see from the stage.
Generally, shows at The Vic Theatre are general admission. But, continuing a recent Vic trend that allows for more expensive tiered pricing of closer seats, folding chairs covered the floor making Saturday’s sold out show an assigned seating affair (even the balcony).
“I’m serious. I hate that,” continued McCulloch of the empties. It’s little surprise he could see them. After all, it’s usually not the cheap seats that wind up unfilled at a sold out show, is it?
That justified rant came following one of the show’s highlights as Echo & The Bunnymen delivered a scorching take on “Over the Wall.”
From their 1981 sophomore effort, the track was driven by some of Sergeant’s most ripping and incisive guitar work, building on the song’s recorded intensity.
Synths were up front next as the group moved to one of two new tracks from The Stars, The Ocean & The Moon. “The Somnambulist” succeeded Saturday on the strength of three part vocals and lush keyboards.
Echo worked in snippets of The Doors (“Roadhouse Blues”) and Lou Reed (“Walk on the Wild Side”) shortly thereafter but saved their own hits for last as “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” “The Killing Moon” and “The Cutter,” closed a main set that would encore with “Lips Like Sugar.”
Enation singer and guitarist (and actor) Jonathan Jackson got the evening started Saturday with a forty minute opening acoustic set.
Jackson, a five time Emmy winner, most recently portrayed musician Avery Barkley through six seasons of the ABC/CMT drama Nashville.
Saturday at The Vic, Jackson performed stripped down versions of the Nashville-based trio’s hooky, anthemic alternative rock songs.
Jackson will be joined later on this tour by his brother, Enation drummer Richard Lee Jackson, but performed solo Saturday night, moving from introspective ballads to rockers clearly designed with his band in mind.
Songs about struggling with addiction and more addressed the world directly as Jackson introduced fans to both his music and his band. Enation's latest single "30 Second Formula" is out now.
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )