LAPIN IT UP!

ROGER MORTON is big and hard 'cos he smokes tabs - but not as many as Ian McCulloch as Echo And The Bunnymen conquer Paris. Sacre bleu!

Echo And The Bunnymen

Paris Le Bataclan

C’est le Paris match of the month. Having cruised through their comeback honeymoon period with remarkable grace and only minor carping about Mac’s shrinking hairdo, the Bunnies are out on the road again, playing night-time matches against the hologram of their cryogenically frozen legend.

If last year they were welcomed back as a reminder of standard-setting ’80s jagged romance and narcissistic swagger, now they have to elbow for long-term room amongst the Marions and Spaces, while fighting a seemingly impossible battle to be as evergreen-good as the legend insists.

Paris, of course, loves Ian McCulloch. The Bunnymen have that on their side. The rock-noir poet in him goes down well here. He is Johnny L’Existential Crooner. He is Jim Morrison without the blubber and the bath water. Moreover, in the most pro-fag city in the world, he smokes beaucoup de cigarettes, with more style than anyone since Greta Garbo. In the play-off between A Bunch Of 30-Something Family Men and The Stormy Transcendental Magic Of The Classic ’80s Rock Band, those fags are damned important.

So, buoyed up by the news that they might be getting their song accepted as the England World Cup theme (except guitarist Will Sergeant, who is unaccountably “depressed”), the expanded line-up of the Bunnymen – worthy extra guitarist and keyboards – fly through the first 20 minutes like teenage lizard princes high on caffeine and Camus. (Fag One: pre-lit and carried on by singer himself) Mac looks mirror confident in his black Armani leather jacket and the band speedball through a blizzard of lean, unfussy tunes.

The join between the 18-year-old opener ‘Rescue’ and the one-year-old ‘I Want To Be There’ is rendered invisible by the foot-down drive while ‘Baseball Bill’ (Fag Two: carried on by roadie) balances Roxy Music-oid trash-pop phrasing and hard riffs with the kind of effortless cool that yer Marions are still groping for.

There’s not much clowning in McCulloch tonight. No Sinatra-like freeforming or pissed joke-telling. For most of the set he inhabits the old and new songs with a cynic-burying commitment. It’s as if he’s taking himself seriously as a singer again. After the flighty acoustics of ‘Bedbugs And Ballyhoo’ (Fag Three: held but not lit), the opening star-splitting bars of ‘The Killing Moon’ unfurl and 1,500 Parisian hearts stop as the velvet cloak of prime McCulloch croons the immortal, “Under blue moon I saw you…” (and nonchalantly drops Fag Three on to his right foot and boots it across stage).

The scope of the Bunnymen’s set is staggering (Fag Four: taken from crowd during vicious rendition of ‘Crocodiles’). ‘Seven Seas’ hits transcendental, ocean-shimmering peaks (Fag Five: smoked crouching by mike stand between songs), ‘Villiers Terrace’ is a wired descent into a bad-acid basement. By ‘Altamont’ and ‘The Cutter’ the mood cuts up from angst to imperial, sexy celebration with Mac doing his weird wiggleyman/palsied horse dance, and even Will peeping out from under the iconic fringe like he’s not actually too depressed to be there. “Leeeeps like shoooogar!” screams a girl in the crowd for the tenth time tonight.

Mac reaches out and selects Fag Six from the outstretched arms with the elaborate, picky gesture of a limelight addict and the girl gets her wish in the form of a sublime groove through ‘Lips Like Sugar’. The encores are all strings and punk-Doors dashes. ‘Ocean Rain’ is glistening perfection. But the real climax comes in the form of ‘Over The Wall’, splintered and extended into a stunning guitar storm that completely finishes off any notion that it’s a one foot in Pere Lachaise Bunnymen that we’re now dealing with and allows McCulloch his final smoking flourish, holding Fag Seven with both hands, leaving Paris in no doubt as to his commitment to cigs, drags and l’existentialism.

If there’s anything amiss about the Bunnymen’s brazen ability to live up to their legend, it’s this: there are moments tonight when they hit heights of numb-toothed, eye-gouging, heady, bloody emotion that seem somewhat incongruous given the nature of their mostly suited, careered and parentally responsible audience.

All that angst and narcissism should belong to the kids. But would the kids ever believe that Echo & The Bunnymen were better than The Verve tonight? Probably not. Best just to note that the Family Men lost 3-0 to The Magic tonight, that filter-tipped fags were smoked, and snow-capped peaks were thoroughly kissed.

Roger Morton