From fan-vote reissue label Run Out Groove comes It’s All Live Now, a compilation of Echo and the Bunnymen live tracks recorded in the mid-’80s. Beating out a Solomon Burke best-of and a repress of Secret Machines’ Now Here is Nowhere, we get eight covers and two early originals from the Liverpool post-punk act.
Ranging from the “well, of course” selections like the covers of the Velvet Underground’s “Run, Run, Run” and “Heroin” and Television’s “Friction,” to the somewhat surprising inclusion of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and the Electra’s “Action Woman,” the covers are all decent and are given a solid Bunnymen makeover, but by no means are necessary for anyone but hardcore fans.
The title track to the band’s debut, “Crocodiles,” sounds pretty excellent, but ends up getting a workout that puts it closer to the territory of the Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked,” rather than the more sinister bass-heavy album version. For the most part, these are competent performances, but most of the covers seem more like set-padding material and the originals don’t necessarily reflect any sort of transcendent performance.
That is, save the last two tracks on the album. It’s All Live Now might be a perfunctory purchase for most casual fans, but if you’ve ever wondered as to why Echo & the Bunnymen were so amazing — beyond the enduring appeal of “The Killing Moon” — the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” into the band’s early track, “Do It Clean,” is an edification in song. The double shot alone is worth purchasing the record, 14 minutes of pure, dark bliss.
“Heroin” quietly builds and despite the very faint murmur of the audience in the background, you can hear the bow on the strings of the violin. When it reaches its middle crescendo, it’s absolutely transcendent. Then, rather than fade out, it crashes into the furiousness of “Do It Clean,” and the addition of the violin (and, I think, cello?) turns it from garage rock into an angular, almost evil musical number. It gets a middle freakout that’s brilliant before returning to the song proper and crashes out. The one-two punch ably demonstrates exactly why Echo and the Bunnymen were and are so important.
For live recordings from 1983 and 1985, the tracks which comprise It’s All Live Now sound fantastic. They’re pretty robust, and manage to sound like they were mixed with the intent of future release, as opposed to half-hearted contemporary soundboard recordings. The quality of the performances do a better job of informing how the songs sound, rather than it being overall good versus bad. The higher the level of performance, the more you can hear — those bows on the strings in “Heroin” and “Do It Clean,” for example, as opposed to the straightforward proto-punk of “She Cracked” or “Action Woman.”
The glossy tip-on jacket has an excellent photo of vocalist Ian McCulloch, and the typeface looks era-appropriate, as well. The center labels on the black vinyl LP have a rather clever logo on the a-side, putting the Korova Records logo in A Clockwork Orange’s font — nodding to the sublabel’s origins in Anthony Burgess’ novel. A brief essay by the Bunnymen’s guitarist, Will Sergeant, as to why these covers were chosen — at which shows they were performed and so on — makes for an excellent package and lends some perspective, elevating this beyond an official bootleg of sorts. The discovery that the covers set sprung out of a birthday party for a friend, and then progressed into the Bunnymen playing covers as their own opening act on their first tour of Sweden is really quite delightful. There’s also a stellar live shot on the reverse of the liners, and I would pay cash money for a poster of it. The damn thing’s absolutely electric.
“It’s All Live Now” is available on vinyl from Light in the Attic.