The Psychedelic Furs and the Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/14/12
The Psychedelic Furs and the Lemonheads
First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis
Sunday, October 14, 2012
With both the Psychedelic Furs and the Lemonheads playing First Avenue within the last year or so, and with both bands having nothing new to peddle as of yet, their somewhat odd double-bill in the Mainroom on Sunday night was potentially set up to be just a sleepwalking money grab by groups who are practiced enough by now to go through the motions and get away with it.
But both bands delivered spirited sets that highlighted not only their prodigious back catalogs but the effortless charm of their frontmen as well. And, in the case of the Furs, they even threw a brand new track into their 90-minute performance to whet the appetite of longtime fans who have been waiting patiently for any long-rumored new material from the English New Wavers.
Evan Dando was supposed to have his longtime friend and songwriting partner Juliana Hatfield alongside him playing bass with the Lemonheads, but sadly she dropped off the tour recently, leaving Dando to quickly pick up a quite capable, but never introduced, young bassist to fill-in on the low end. And while Hatfield's absence was glaring, and the band took the stage 20 minutes late, their well-paced set was tight and full of hits from throughout the Lemonheads storied career. "Down About It," "Confetti," and "Hospital" all breezed by with a relaxed, tempered appeal, with Dando throwing in plenty of brief guitar flourishes that gave the songs an added bite, but it did seem like these were warm-up tracks for the band while they were settling in to their surroundings.
"My Drug Buddy" will always hold an allure for anyone who has ever succumbed to being a slacker, even if just for a hazy weekend, but it wasn't until feisty versions of "Break Me" and "Mallo Cup" before the set really found a spark. Other than some heartfelt thanks to the supportive crowd, the only other thing Dando said to the audience was when he joked, "This does not excuse my guitar playing, but I'm having trouble singing because I quit smoking." And while he did struggle just a bit on some of the higher notes on "It's About Time," the trio tore it up on a raucous version of "Style" that was one of the highlights of their 40-minute set.
From there the performance finished in a blur of classic Lemonheads hits, as an impassioned, wistful version of "Ride With Me" from 1990's Lovey just soared, and was quickly followed by a rousing renditions of "Dawn Can't Decide" and "It's a Shame About Ray" that easily swept away the crowd. Dando really seemed fully invested in the songs at this point, and dug deep into his back catalog for stirring takes on "Stove" and "Tenderfoot" that kept up the momentum of the performance, but it was the slow-burning set closer "Rudderless" that really lit up the room, despite the absence of Hatfield on a track where her presence would have only added to the occasion. But alas, it was up to Dando and company to carry the night, and they did so admirably.
The last time the Psychedelic Furs came through First Ave, it was on a Saturday night, so they had to cut their set somewhat short in order to clear out before the dance night. But on this evening, the English sextet didn't have a curfew and played like it, delivering an energetic, highly entertaining set that highlighted the magnetic allure of frontman Richard Butler and the lasting appeal of the Furs songs themselves. The set started with the rueful "Only You And I," with Butler's vocals sounding a touch more raspy than usual to start, but by the time they launched into a celebratory, sax-laden version of "Love My Way," he found his voice as their smash hit elevated everyone in the room, no matter how many times they have heard the song.
Butler consistently leaned on his mic stand in a cocksure pose throughout the set, soaking up the supportive vibe from the crowd as well as the groove his band was locked into as well, with "Run And Run" and "Mr. Jones" both taking on an added vibrancy in a live setting. "Thank you. It's great to be back!" Butler exclaimed at one point, bouncing around energetically as if to prove how excited he was to be playing First Ave again. And indeed, the raucous, animated rendition of "Heartbreak Beat" only gave added credence to his warm words.
"The Ghost In You," "No Easy Street," and "She Is Mine" all sounded elegant and earnest, but it was a highly charged take on an unannounced new track, "Little Miss World," which not only gave the middle of the set an extra spark, but also caught the attention of the Furs dedicated fans who are just hoping there is more new material on its way.
The set charged to a close with an edgy rendition of Love Spit Love's "Believe," which featured Richard singing the brash, spirited chorus into a megaphone while his brother Tim locked down the pulse of the track, as he did all evening long. A bouncy version of "Danger" kept the performance rolling, with the stellar sax work of Mars Williams adding a funky undertone to the upbeat number. "Pretty in Pink" found the band bathed in pink lights, which would have seemed a touch overblown if this wasn't the Furs and it wasn't "Pretty in Pink," as pure and passionate of a pop confection as has even been written. Richard was bounding around the stage throughout the vibrant song, as if this was the first, not the thousandth, time he's ever sang the indelible number.
A moody, fervent take on "Highwire Days" quickly followed, with Richard preening and pretending to balance on a wire while he delivered his incisive lyrics. Butler does tend to act out his lyrics throughout the set, which surprisingly only adds to his charm while infusing the material with a playful visual accompaniment. A soaring version of "Heaven" ended the main set, seeing the band off to a well-earned ovation.
The quick-hitting two song encore kicked off with the timely and tempestuous "President Gas," and was followed by an abrasive and experimental take on "India," which found Richard on his knees at the start of the track, orchestrating the swelling atmospherics of the song. Rather than resting on the laurels of their past performances and phoning it in on a Sunday night, the Psychedelic Furs came out with more energy and passion than most bands half their age, and showed there isn't any dust on their enduring catalog of hits while also delivering a brand new song that gives hope that more new material is on its way.
Personal Bias: I go back a ways with both of these bands, but I saw them both within the last year at the same venue, and wasn't sure what to expect from this somewhat peculiar pairing. I was pleasantly surprised by both sets.
The Crowd: Definitely skewed older than most First Ave shows, but everyone was out to have fun for the night, and the drinks were definitely flowing.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I haven't ever been this excited by a sax solo!"
Random Notebook Dump: The sax solos were indeed quite awesome.
The Lemonheads Setlist:
Down About It
My Drug Buddy
It's About Time
Ride With Me
Dawn Can't Decide
It's A Shame About Ray
The Psychedelic Furs Setlist:
Only You And I
Love My Way
Run And Run
The Ghost In You
No Easy Street
She Is Mine
Little Miss World (New Song)
All Of This And Nothing
Pretty In Pink
President Gas (Encore)
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