1980s post-punk band Echo and the Bunnymen paid its first visit to Pittsburgh in many years last Thursday night, much to the excitement of a sold-out crowd at Mr. Smalls.
Local opener Brett Staggs quickly won over the crowd with nothing but his smooth voice and acoustic guitar, playing a half-hour set of indie-folk songs infused with grit. Though an acoustic performance seemed a strange choice of warm-up due to the difference in genre between Staggs and the Bunnymen, Staggs' attitude--especially his occasional raspy vocal growls--set a nice tone with songs like "Sinnin' and Grinnin'" and "Hangover Blues."
Echo and the Bunnymen brought plenty of grit, too, opening with a version of "Crocodiles" more aggressive than the original studio version from the album of the same name, with frontman Ian McCulloch commenting mid-song on an unpleasant smell wafting through the venue, somewhat setting the tone for an evening with minimal onstage banter or interaction between bandmates--save for a quick, fun reach-around strum of a guitar by McCulloch. Still, the band continued for the next hour and a half with songs spanning their career, often performing medleys of their own tracks with classic covers--"Villiers" was combined with "Roadhouse Blues" and “The Jean Genie." Even The Beatles were represented with a few lines of "Don't Let Me Down" later in the evening, and no Echo and the Bunnymen set would be complete without their well-known cover of The Doors' "People Are Strange," featured in the 1988 vampire film "The Lost Boys."
The set continued with such songs as "All That Jazz," "Zimbo," "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo," two from last year's album "Meteorites"--the title track and "Constantinople"--"Seven Seas," "Bring on the Dancing Horses," and classic "The Killing Moon," ending it all with "The Cutter."
For their encore, Echo and the Bunnymen returned to the previous motif of original and cover medleys, mashing up "Nothing Lasts Forever" with Loud Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and their own "In the Midnight Hour" before officially closing things with an extended version of "Lips Like Sugar." While other recent setlists have included a second encore of "Do It Clean" and "Ocean Rain," Pittsburgh didn't get one.
Still, though, Echo and the Bunnymen put on a solid show and proved they're a band worth seeing, playing a well-crafted, crowd-pleasing set that had all of Mr. Smalls singing and dancing.