- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

It would have taken more than luck for Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen to achieve the popularity of contemporaries U2. Specifically, it would have taken a “Joshua Tree” — the kind of album that could both bridge the trans-Atlantic gap and speak in an American vernacular.

The Bunnymen, despite their unshakable jones for American psychedelia and early New York punk, never pulled off such a successful crossover. Still, they’ve carried on as if they did, and hats off to them. Core members Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, lead singer and guitarist, respectively, re-formed the band in 1997 and last month released the uneven but compelling new album “Siberia.”

Standout cuts from “Siberia” were featured in the Bunnymen’s Friday night appearance at the Black Cat, including the dreamy “In the Margins,” the ‘80s time capsule “Stormy Weather” and the brassy rocker “Scissors in the Sand.”

The mostly thirtysomething crowd heard Bunnymen faves, too, of course. Just shy of midnight, a hypnotic drone gave way to a rousing “Going Up” and the sight of Mr. McCulloch, wearing shades and fingering a lit cigarette (a fixture throughout the 90-minute set), and Mr. Sergeant, his head bowed in concentration, his face hidden behind long black bangs.

Mr. McCulloch and Mr. Sergeant, both in their mid-40s, were backed by a youngish band that sounded variously sleek and muscular, but always professional. A rhythm guitarist allowed Mr. Sergeant to put on a Bunnymen tone clinic; he frequently traded out guitars, including a 12-string acoustic for a note-for-note replication of the workmanlike solo on “The Killing Moon,” and flashed an array of swirling, fuzzy sound effects. Mr. McCulloch’s voice is perhaps stronger, if less over-the-top, than it was 20 years ago.

The band sampled from nearly every one of its albums but wisely focused on early classics such as “All that Jazz” (which stomped with even more vigor than it did in 1980), “The Cutter,” “Rescue” and the irresistibly sensual “Lips Like Sugar.”

Segues from “Villiers Terrace” into the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” into Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” weren’t improvised, but they were nonetheless a fun showcase for the American undercurrents that run through this very — and criminally underappreciated — English band.

I’d bet Bono would happily admit that Mr. McCulloch could give him a run for his money on the sublime “Ocean Rain,” which closed the Bunnymen’s set on a note of satisfying nostalgia.

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