Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
As far as we can consider, this was an impossible session that we couldn't believe was going to be real until the eternally sunglassed man was actually in the door. It all started months before the date it was supposed to happen, just after Thanksgiving this past fall, when a cold e-mail came in from Echo & The Bunnymen's management, inquiring about any interest we might have in a session with the band around what was supposed to be a tour stop in Chicago on an American tour in support of its new album "The Fountain." Initially, we thought that we were being punked and wrote back, "If this is indeed real, we absolutely would be interested in this." It was confirmed that it was real and yet we didn't hear anything for months and then the news got out via a press release that the band was canceling its entire tour due to work Visa problems with the United States government, just weeks before it was to commence. We silently mourned something that we still had thought was improbable and now was most certainly dead in the water. It was at that point that we got a phone call wanting to lock in a time for a Daytrotter session and we were rightly confused. Echo lead singer Ian McCulloch still planned to come to the States for the session, tour or no tour, so he and manager Peter Byrne flew overnight from the UK to Chicago and the next morning rented a driver and a limousine to bring them the last three hours across the state of Illinois to get to Rock Island, on what was a sunny and unseasonably warm afternoon. The surreal experience continued as McCulloch was set adrift on memory bliss, likening our humble studio to one of his old favorites in his hometown of Liverpool, in which his band had taped during its earlier years. He seemed certifiably elated to be here and even vowed to one day bring the entire band here for a show and another session, sooner rather than later. He came without any gear, just dressed in what appeared to be a fresh, new pair of designer jeans, some fancy shades that never left his eyes uncovered and a slight bone to pick with their talkative limo driver who seemed to be unfamiliar with simple street directions. He and Byrne both picked up acoustic guitars (and we're not entirely sure how often it happens that Byrne plays along with McCulloch) and ripped through these four songs - three from "The Fountain" and the classic "The Killing Moon" - in short order, here in the city for no longer than an hour, even with some frustrations encountered in multiple false starts to "Shroud of Turin." The session is an effortless and entrancing piece of art from a man who should really be over it, who should not give a rat's ass who's listening and who's finding he and his band relevant any longer - over 30 years since its inception. It cuts the often misconstrued front man down to the elements of a song that are unable to be hidden away - behind production or mythology. It was McCulloch in a room, with a friend, two guitars, a handful of songs and some homemade cookies waiting for him in the hallway. The newest songs - in this setting - stack up kindly to "The Killing Moon" - and it's evident that they come from the same loins. It's unmistakable and it's delightful to hear them performed with an unadorned passion and with such pride as is often unfashionable for such legendary stars to do. Ian McCulloch didn't need to be here - a long, long way from home - on this day in November, yet he was and that seems to say something special.