photo by Jaime Lees
Looks cool, was hot.
St. Louis' brutal weekend heat was so bad, it took down a rockstar.
At the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre on Saturday night, the lead singer of Echo & the Bunnymen (and the subject of our music feature this week
) was overcome by the heat and had to leave the stage.
Ian McCulloch gave it his best shot. Wearing his signature jacket despite the day's record-setting 108-degree temperature, he pushed through at first — and even took sustenance from an oxygen mask. But finally the heat cut things short.
The day had been brutally, dangerously hot. Still, the Violent Femmes went on as scheduled, with the Bunnymen following closely behind after the sun went down.
Despite every bit of their human instincts telling them to avoid the outdoors, a shocking percentage of the audience still managed showed up for the outdoor concert, with the seated area appearing to be about half full. And though the crowd loved the Violent Femmes’ set, it’s likely that most of the audience was there primarily to see Echo & the Bunnymen — the band hasn’t played St. Louis in twenty years. (Their last gig here was a slot at Pointfest 1997 on another stupid-hot day at the same venue.)
The venue did everything it could to make sure that it didn’t have mass casualties on its hands. The amphitheatre was well-staffed, cooling stations were easy to find, misting fans were circulating and, most importantly, administration smartly waved the usual policy that limits guests to bringing in just one bottle of water. From the front gate to the stage barricades, every staff member we encountered was kind and helpful. (Not much could be done to improve the restrooms, however, which are always and forever people-baking cinderblock kilns.)
The Violent Femmes started right on time and seemed to tolerate the heat fairly well. At that point in the night it was overwhelmingly hot down in the closely packed front bowl of the audience. About halfway through their set my friend and I decamped for the slightly breezier air that was available near the outer edges available away from the crowd.
We returned to our seats in time for the Bunnymen. Their set started normally enough, with the entire amphitheatre going dark and then the stage glowing in their traditional style: plenty of smoke machines and dramatically backlit like the film version of an alien abduction.
The band took the stage, and all seemed well — stellar, even — until it suddenly wasn’t. McCulloch’s voice was strong and beautiful for the first half of their set but then it became clear that he was slipping. He abruptly stopped singing and said he had to exit for five minutes “to breathe,” but he came back sooner than that and resumed his duties.
Try as he might, McCulloch kept fading. His breathing between songs had become labored and shaky. A worried stagehand who had previously been busy throwing bottles of water out to the audience followed his movements closely after that, placing an IV bag of fluid just behind him on the drum riser.
The band had to pause two more times (once with McCulloch just stepping to the back corner of the stage to get aid from an oxygen mask) but try as he might, he couldn’t quite swing it under these awful conditions. We felt like we were about to witness a truly scary incident if McCulloch pushed himself any harder. It was time to stop.
A few attendees didn’t feel the same way, taking their complaints to Twitter to say that they were let down, wanted a refund, etc. But I think that if McCulloch hadn’t needed to leave the stage, nobody would’ve even known that the band's set was shortened. They still managed to play for just about an hour and skipped over lesser-known songs on their planned setlist in favor of the radio hits that most of the audience had come to witness. And in the end, they only cut four songs total.
Many of the complaints I saw said that McCulloch should’ve removed his jacket and that would’ve helped him with tolerating the heat. Meh. Maybe. But I think it was his full-body singing style that did him in. That kind of dazzling vocal ability must require a shitload of breathing tricks and the humid air was thick and miserable to simply exist in, much less sing. Add to that the heat from the stage lights and it’s a miracle that the dude didn’t collapse immediately.
There were ambulances leaving from the back area of the venue as the show ended, but if one of those was for McCulloch, he did a good job of bouncing back, because he played Chicago last night as scheduled.
As I described the after-concert scene to a friend the next day: “The very reasonable Midwesterners filing past us after the show were all saying that McCulloch should've taken off his jacket if he was hot, but that would be like Gene Simmons performing in flip-flops. Completely unacceptable.”
This show seemed to indicate that the legendary Ian McCulloch would rather drop dead than dim his personal style. And I, for one, have nothing but respect for that. Shine on, Mac. See you next time. (Hopefully indoors.)
St. Louis weather and Ian McCulloch: both super hot.
photo by Jaime Lees
UFO stage. Totally hot.