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Echo & the Bunnymen at Turner Hall Thursday night.
Echo & the Bunnymen at Turner Hall Thursday night. (Photo: Kelsea McCulloch)

Echo & The Bunnymen brought the hits and the feels

Echo & The Bunnymen played a passionate nostalgia show for a sold-out crowd tonight at Turner Hall Ballroom. It was the first time the band played in Milwaukee since performing 32 years ago at the Northwest Side’s now-defunct Uptown Theatre.

Despite a rotating cast of bandmates, two original members remain: iconic vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant. The duo stood front and center on the foggy stage, backlit, dressed in black and exuding that "alternative" look and sound that defined the anti-mainstream 1980s. McCulloch’s voice was moody and strong and Sergeant's fretwork and guitar lines were as solid and hypnotic as ever.

Fans and fellow musicians alike agree that Echo & the Bunnymen is responsible for influencing many ‘80s alternative bands, from The Smiths to The Stone Roses. And yet, the crowd – many of whom were introduced to Echo via the "Pretty In Pink" soundtrack with "Dancing Horses" – seemed to be familiar with most, but certainly not all, of the band's material.

We know Echo & the Bunnymen and yet we don’t. Some of the songs are favorites, and some are simply familiar, but attending an Echo concert is not the same as a concert by The Cure or other cherished ‘80s bands where we know every word to every song. (Why is that?)

However, there were moments tonight of heartfelt and enthusiastic audience interaction during tunes like "The Killing Moon," "The Cutter," "Bedbug and Ballyhoo," "Bring On the Dancing Horses" and, of course, massive hit "Lips Like Sugar" which was one of the encores. Other cuts from the concert included "Going Up," "Crocodiles," "All That Jazz," "Rescue," "Play In the Margins" and "All My Colours."

McCulloch's appreciation for Jim Morrison from The Doors was evident because of his vocal style at times and his choice of tribute songs, which in the past included "People Are Strange" and tonight, a version of "L.A. Woman" in which he replaced the lyrics with "Milwaukee Lady."

Echo & The Bunnymen – formed in Liverpool, England, in 1978 –  is currently on a six-week, whirlwind American tour that started on Sept. 8 in Boston. The band plays tomorrow night at First Avenue in Minneapolis and Chicago’s Metro on Saturday evening.

But tonight was Milwaukee's turn to hear the Echo, and it felt special and rare. Endearing moments during the concert – like when McCulloch asked two or three times after a song, "That was good!?" – contributed to the warmth of the event. (But for most of the show, McCulloch was focused more on the music than conversation, although he did thank the audience twice and shared a few other nearly indecipherable quips.)

Nostalgia shows remind us simultaneously what it felt like to come of age, even though we didn't want to at the time, and what it feels like to increase in age, even though we don't want to now. These concerts connect us with friends, acquaintances and old roommates  – some of whom we are happy to see, and some not as much. But most importantly, nostalgia concerts remind us that if a beloved band can rock after 40 years, so can we.

Set list:

Going Up
Do It Clean
Crocodiles
All That Jazz
My Kingdom
In The Margins
Rescue
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Never Stop
Villiers Terrace
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
Over the Wall
Dancing Horses
The Killing Moon
The Cutter
Encore:
Nothing Last Forever
Lips Like Sugar
Ocean Rain

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