Just like summer festivals, winter pre-Christmas shows can attract a certain kind of audience, with quite different demands from your regular everyday gig-goers.
That said, with their devoted following packing out a modestly-sized venue like the converted church that is the Queen’s Hall, there’s no need for the Bunnymen to pander to the whims of a party crowd.
But, with no current album to promote, the Liverpudlian veterans are able to instead trawl their back catalogue to good effect. ‘Going Up’ – the opener from debut long-player ‘Crocodiles’ – is as good a way as any to kick off a string of crowd-pleasing, bona-fide hits – ‘Rescue and ‘Never Stop’ follow in close succession and show that the band can still deliver what their boisterous crowd demand.
And expectations are high with little allowance being made for the advancing years of the two original members. Beforehand, two punters remark of singer Ian McCulloch that at the last Glasgow show “his voice was going”. No such problems for the majority of tonight’s set, the frontman hitting all the right notes (in the right order), particularly when jousting with the tribal drumming of an early-set epic, ‘All My Colours’. With the band shrouded in smoke and darkness, it’s entirely possible at times to imagine that the now-six-piece are the same unit that toured similarly-sized venues in their heyday.
It may be that the aforementioned Usher Hall show wasn’t quite ‘right’ for a band who, stripped of a string section, make for a more muscular live proposition. The Queen’s Hall’s pews are sparsely populated as the crowd instead cram into the main body of the kirk to worship their guitar god Will Sergeant, whipping up a storm stage left on ‘Never Stop’.
Meanwhile, McCulloch effortlessly trips through a string of oldies including a selection of the band’s trademark segues – ‘Villiers Terrace’ becomes ‘Jean Genie’ via ‘Roadhouse Blues’, and Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ makes an appearance, the ‘I’m walking in the rain / to end this misery” a lyric made for Mac and, er, his long Mac. The singer is in fact, in a pretty good mood, though his between-song Scouse mumble is largely indecipherable apart from (possibly) “I can’t think of anything to talk about… oh, it’s Christmas soon”.
We get some evidence towards the end of the set in ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ that the vocalist may indeed be slightly less powerful than his heyday some 40 years ago, but by this time the crowd are well and truly up for a Robbie-style singalong and happy to fill in on a rattling closing pairing of ‘Killing Moon’ and ‘The Cutter’.
There is a fairly excessive wait for first encore, a slightly flat ‘Lips Like Sugar’, but eventually the night is rounded off with a barnstorming ‘Do It Clean’, augmented by snippets of ‘Sex Machine’ and powerchorded like McCulloch and Sergeant’s ’80s side project Electrafixion – the ideal send-off for a dedicated crowd by now in celebratory mood.