Echo & The Bunnymen at San Diego’s Observatory Theater

It was a chillier evening than you’d expect for June 10th in San Diego, as I stood shivering outside the Observatory Theater in North Park. Some would object to the chill, but I thought it only fitting for the ever-enticing Echo & The Bunnymen.

You see, in my experience, Echo has always been mysterious. And elusive.

Let me explain. Over the past two years, I’ve tried to see Echo five times to no avail. Sure, we’re living in strange times, but I’d like to think five failed attempts is a bit excessive, even for post-COVID standards. I originally was to see the band at Cruel World Fest in May of 2020… well, we all know how that turned out. What a ‘cruel world’, indeed. Rescheduled for May of 2022, Cruel World’s debut went off without a hitch… just without any Bunnymen, as apparently they had visa issues. No big deal, as Echo was, once again, on the Cruel World lineup for the second annual, which they indeed performed… although I, admittedly, got distracted by shiny objects (cough, a boy with backstage credentials) and unfortunately missed the set. That one’s on me.

Fast-forward six months or so to November 2023, when Echo was to slated to play Darker Waves Fest in Huntington Beach before their own show in San Diego. Because of my lack of Bunnymen thus far, I made it a point to be up close and personal for their set at Darker Waves. 10 minutes go by, 15, okay, now 20… as Robby Krieger walks out and starts playing acoustic Doors hits to a supremely puzzled crowd. Although the surprise appearance — and subsequent performance — of Krieger was beyond epic, it didn’t fulfill my mission. I heard that Echo & The Bunnymen finally did grace the stage, albeit late (or perhaps that was just another one of those ‘festival rumors’), but by the time the news had made its way to me, I had already hiked the mile to the other main stage. There was no going back. Luckily, the headlining show at The Observatory remained. Just when I thought it was finally happening, Echo played three songs and left the stage — never to return — with a later explanation that frontman Ian McCulloch’s voice gave out.

This is the story of that rescheduled San Diego show.

Now, why, you might be asking, did I bore you with such lengthy exposition? Because you must know the energy walking back into The Observatory six months later. The venue was kind enough to honor anyone’s tickets from the November show, too, making this show EXTRA sold-out (if that was ever a thing).

Walking in the place filled with black leather and hairspray, The Red Fox Tails were already going at it onstage — a jazzy instrumental prelude to some drastically different headliners. A woman next to me complained that “it should’ve been another 80s band to open”, but I personally think that The Red Fox Tails was not only a classy choice, but a band that didn’t detract from Echo in any way. Another 80s band might’ve stolen Bunnymen thunder or brought in blasphemous attendees who don’t know who Siouxsie Sioux or Lou Reed are. Or heaven forbid, both. Just because a band’s heyday was in the 80s doesn’t mean that all 80s bands should get lumped together.

But I digress. The Red Fox Tails turned the stage over after a short, yet white hot set, leaving everyone in the room to question a) if Echo & The Bunnymen were actually in the building and b) how many songs they might perform this time around. It was a fun game of Bunnymen bingo, with people comparing how many times they have seen versus how many times they have tried to see the band. Naturally, I won.

As the house lights went down and the blue stage lights went up, I was elated. It was finally happening (take two). As McCulloch went into throwbacks like “Going Up”, “All That Jazz”, and “Rescue” off their debut Crocodiles album, to more modern deep cuts like “Flowers”, Echo & The Bunnymen were everything I was hoping and waiting for — and more.

Before going into “Bring On The Dancing Horses”, McCulloch addressed the crowd.

Granted, it was truly hard to understand him with the noise of people chatting over his thick Liverpudlian accent speaking at such a low decibel volume, but I caught something about “having two sets” before McCulloch shooshed a member of the audience for trying to speak over him. After the shooshing, a man shouted on the other side of the auditorium to “PLAY ‘THE CUTTER’!” like the show was bloody Total Request Live. After “Dancing Horses” concluded, McCulloch walked offstage. Was this an intermission or was this the end of the show since people can’t keep their damn mouths shut and simply enjoy a band without heckling?

It being a Monday, I was fine with not finding out. I got nine songs performed in the flesh and that’s good enough for me. As I headed home, I still don’t know if Echo ever came back to finish the set. It’s just one more enigmatic instance of a truly iconic band.

Photography by Kristy Rose

Share this article


Become a Patron

Tour dates for echo & the bunnymen

Get music updates in your inbox

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments