Thursday, August 21, 2014

Echo & The Bunnymen @ Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA 08/19/14

These days I am still on my Sentimental Tour.  Most of my current concert experiences are revisiting bands from my youth that I never had a chance to see.  Money was scarce when I was a teen and what little I had went to vinyl, cassettes, and on occasion CD's if it was a sure thing that I would love the album.

Now that I am older, so are the crowds.  The are more laid back and appreciative, and surprisingly the bands still sound great even though they are in their 50's and 60's. Echo & The Bunnymen would prove to be no different.

I had seen on Facebook that Echo & The Bunnymen would be playing at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia, one of my favorite mid size venues.  Their current US tour was a short one with 14 dates over 3 weeks.  Philadelphia being the last stop on the tour.  They were touring in support of their latest album 'Meteorites'.  The band is consisting of only two original members, Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant.  Les Pattinson left the band back in 1998 for personal reasons.  Drummer, Pete de Freitas, died in a motorcycle accident in 1989 at the age of 27.   They had been promoting the concert like crazy so I was assuming that ticket sales were low.  Their last time in Philly was at The Trocadero, which is considerably smaller, and I had wondered if they had bitten off more than they could chew with Union Transfer.  After all, it wasn't 1988 anymore.

I kept the concert in the back of my mind remaining uncommitted to going.  I am older, and it was a work night.  I just wasn't sure if I was up to it.  At the last minute I figured what the hell.  Doors were opening at 8 and the show was scheduled to start at 8:45 with no opening act.  It didn't sound like it was going to be a late night. 

I arrived at the venue just before 8.  To my surprise there was a long line out front waiting to get in the parking lot in back was almost full.  That was a first for me.

My first stop was to buy a concert shirt.  I was surprised that the only merchandise that they were selling was one shirt.  No choices, no cd's, no vinyl, no posters.  Just one, beautiful shirt.  And it was mine.

I was inside by 8:15 and was front and center with only one person in front of me.  The place was empty but I was not surprised with this venue.  As an old restaurant, it has a back bar both upstairs and downstairs.  I didn't expect the floor to fill until closer to show time.  When 8:45 came around the floor was packed but the show did not start.  The music playing had been ambient but was starting to become more upbeat.  The crowd was mostly 40 and 50 somethings with a handful of youngsters in the crowd. It appeared that they were still appealing to their core audience from the 80's and not a newer, younger audience.  To kill time, I started to compare past concerts with people close to me.  The couple in front of me were seeing Echo & The Bunnymen for what would be their 27th time.  Their first saw them on one of their first dates in the late 80's and now see them whenever they are close.  We discussed what we thought of Peter Hook, how Bono and Jack White get upset if you are not into their show and how great R.E.M. were in their early days.  Before we knew it is was 9:30 and the band was getting ready to go on.

Just then I hit a new personal first at a concert.  I was hit in the back of the head with a quarter.  Then in back.  Then a penny in the head.  Someone was shelling change at the stage and the front of the crowd.  Someone of my comrades were hit as well.  I can now add that to my list of things that have happened to me at a show.  It joins elite company with getting pissed on at a Jimmy Buffett concert and helping someone that was having a seizure at a Marilyn Manson show.  Good times...good times.

The stage was filled with smoke and the band took the stage.  Their current incarnation was a six piece.  There was a keyboardist, obviously to fill in for the lack or orchestration and also a guitarist.  Ian would not be playing guitar on this tour.

The first thing that stuck me when they hit the stage was their set up.  Ian was front and center and everyone was behind him with the exception of Will...who was shoved in a corner.  It made it appear as if the show was Ian's with a killer backing band.  There were lamps and blue lighting and the smoke screen didn't stop.  Even so, Ian never took off his shades.

The first song was 'Meteorites'.  Ian's voice sounded great, for a life long smoker.  From there they jumped right into a string of classic songs.  'Rescue', 'Do It Clean', 'Never Stop', 'People are Strange', 'Seven Seas', and 'Bedbugs and Ballyhoo'.  It was like wanting everything and getting it all.  Ian was very chatty with the crowd.  After 'People are Strange' Ian commented that he smelled pot and every fucking show someone is smoking pot.  He also said they were welcome to stop by the tour bus after the show.

It was intriguing to watch Will play.  To watch his technique.  All of the guitar geeks were trying to get a look at his pedal board.  He was really into it in a low key way.  He was shaking and jumping.  It was like watching a master craftsman.  Even Ian looked at him during his solo on 'Over the Wall' and said, "Wow".

It was interesting to watch Ian too.  He recently quit smoking so during long instrumentals and solos he would walk to the drum kit with his back toe the audience to take a drag of his electronic cigarette.  He also would make hand signals to his band mates to lead them in the direction that he wanted to go. 

The band was incredible too.  Their precision was incredible.  They were in true form and it really felt that we were witnessing something special.  It was fun to watch Gordy's mannerisms on stage as subtle as they were.  Stephen did a fantastic job replicating Pattinson's bass lines.  Having the six piece band helped to layer the music with lush orchestration.

Ian informed us that the next song would be a sing-along.  And it was.  Ian was so happy at our chorus of 'Bring on the Dancing Horses' that he was giggling like a kid.  From there they went into 'Villiers Terrace' that became a medley with 'Roadhouse Blues'.  I have collected so many B-sides of covers by Echo & The Bunnymen that is was nice to finally hear one in person. 

'Killing Moon' was next.  This was pure heaven.  The one thing that I noticed that not only were Will's solos slightly different, they were better.  It was a privilege just to see him play his 12 string electric guitar. It is hard to imagine saying this but the live version was better.  The ended the set with 'The Cutter' and of they went.

The crowd went crazy until they came back.  They started with 'Nothing Lasts Forever' that went into Lou Reed's 'Wild Side' and Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour'.  They were not straight covers.  They all melted into one solid vibe.  Finally we were treated to 'Lips Like Sugar'.  A crazy extra long version with some Bowie thrown in for good measure. 

I thought that this would be the end of the show but it appeared that they would be coming out for a second encore.  I was racking my brain trying to imagine what they might play.  When they came out Ian said that many band's from the UK don't like to play the US but that he gets a fucking boner every time he comes to the states.  They then hit us with 'Back of Love'.  I believe that this was the fist time or one of the few times that they had played this on this tour.  It was amazing.  Then it was announced that the next song would be their last and after restarting in once we were mesmerized with a version of 'Ocean Rain' that blows away the original.  I tried listening to the original the next day and I couldn't.  It was ruined for me.  Ian had his assistant bring him a cigarette. I guess that was his way of celebrating the end of the tour.  And then they were gone.

The usual frenzy for setlists and picks occurred after the show.  Someone was even begging for Ian's cigarette butt.  I was not so lucky this time although someone let me take a photo of their setlist.

I walked out to my car, but not before stealing the concert poster for the upcoming New Pornographers concert coming in November.  When I got to my car I realized that I was parked about 50 feet from the tour bus.  I noticed a few people standing there waiting.  It had been a long time since I had done this sort of thing but I grabbed a sharpie and my ticket and headed over.

After about 20 minutes Stephen, the bassist, wondered over.  There were a group of 3 guys, a father and daughter who had gotten setlist, and myself.  The group of 3 guys didn't seem to care about anyone other than Will and Ian.  The father and I were happy to get all of their autographs.  Stephen asked if we would be seeing Peter Hook because his best mate is playing drums for him on this tour.  He then said that the rest of the guys would be out soon. 

Next Gordy stopped by.  He was also happy to sign and got the drummer and keyboardist to come out as well.  Three down, two to go. 

Will emerged and came over to us.  The group of 3 guys had about 50 items to have signed.  Will looked at us and asked, "When did we become so popular in Philadelphia?"  He was happy to talk to us about guitars and even took a selfie with the father from behind the fence acting like a caged animal.  If was a fantastic experience. 

At this point is was 12:15.  They said Ian would be out at any minute.  20 minutes later there was still no sign of Ian.  Gordy came over with a box and gave each of us a beer and proceeded to have one with us and chat. 

He was telling us that he had made a pilgrimage earlier in the day to his favorite hat shop on South Street to find out it had closed.  He said the black man the owned the store had the best hats.  He was hoping to get a Baker Boy hat for their upcoming Letterman appearance.  He said the best line that he ever heard came from the man who owned the shop.  When he learned Gordy was a musician he said, "Man, there are only two notes you need to know. C Sharp and B Natural."  We then talked about the Stones.  How both of our favorite Stones album was 'Exile on Main Street' and how he won't see them in concert because he wants to leave his fantasy of what they were like in their prime in tact.  We talked about Gram Parsons and Spanish Tony.  We talked about Philadelphia Concert Venues and how good the sound was at Union Transfer.  We discussed how their setlist had changed throughout the tour.  Gordy thought that tonight's show had been the best of the tour  That something had just clicked.  We hadn't even realized that time was flying by and before we knew it Ian had arrived.

We asked Ian for his autograph and he said to give him five.  He went on the bus and came out with his assistant.  Someone asked if they could take his picture and he said yes...when he was ready.  Someone tried to snap a photo and his assistant put his hand up to block it.  As Ian was signing autographs for the 3 guys we were excited to tell him that the show sounded great.  He said, "Fuck the sound.  It was the band that was great."  He was just about to sign the last item for the 3 men when he stopped.  He held the last vinyl album and looked at them and said, "You've got to be fucking kidding me."  They guy didn't understand.  Ian said, "Do you want me to chuck this?"  The man looked at him puzzled and said, "Why?"  Ian proceeded to take the album and throw it like a Frisbee across the parking lot.  He said he was done and he turned around and got on the bus.  We were stunned. We asked the guy what the album was.  It was 'Reverberation'  The one Echo and The Bunnymen album Ian did not play on.  What a fucking idiot. He didn't get it.  Looking at it now I don't think that the 3 guys were fans at all.  I think they were getting signatures to sell.  We all started to sold him.  Telling him how insulting that was.  They quickly got in their cars and left.  Will walked by and asked what happened.  When we told him he unsuccessfully choked back a laugh and quickly walked away.  Gordy walked over, gave us a sympathetic look, and said, "Sorry Mates".  We had a feeling that no one was going to go to bat for us with Ian.  they said goodnight and got on the bus. 

I stood there for a moment with the father and daughter hoping that Ian might change his mind.  I felt bad that I didn't get his autograph but I felt worse for the daughter.  This was her first real experience with meeting a band and her excitement immediately turned to disappointment.  We held out until a little after one in the morning and then we finally gave up.  We said good night and went our separate ways.

I couldn't help but to feel disappointed myself.  On the drive home I managed to talk myself out of it.  I had a great night.  I saw one of my favorite bands.  It was a great performance and I met some amazing people and had wonderful conversations.  I even came away with some stories to tell.  That is what it is all about after all...isn't it?

See you at the next show!



  1. Holly crap, that is an interesting post! Penny in the head, chatting with the band, vinyls flying... What a great night!!!

    1. It is definitely one that will go down in the record books for me!!! Thanks GG!

  2. Great review. You mean after all these years you and I have never f'ing discussed Peter Hook??? His playing on Bizarre Love Triangle is as close as we get to heaven.
    Your pal,
    Bud's unpaid for kitchen upgrade

    1. How have we NOT discussed Hooky? His bass playing is seminal.


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