September 9, 2011
Legendary UK post-punk stalwarts the Psychedelic Furs rolled into First Avenue on Thursday night intent on showing their aging but dedicated fans a good time, as well as proving that there isn't any dust forming just yet on their stellar back catalog of hits. Frontman and founder Richard Butler was in fine voice and great spirits as he led his band through a spirited (but all-too-short) 70-minute, career-spanning set that showcased how indelible their songs truly are, and also how much their moody, mercurial sound still influences much of the current music scene.
With brother Tim at his side (as well as longtime members Paul Garisto on drums and Mars Williams on saxophone, joined by guitarist Rich Good and former Information Society keyboardist Amanda Kramer), Richard took a low, resplendent bow as he took the stage to a loud ovation while the band eased into the strong set opener, "Talk Like A Stranger." The roars got even louder for "Love My Way," which tested Richard's voice just a bit, but his impassioned delivery carried the lustful song home.
The first real surprise of the night came when the brothers Butler decided to break out their fiery Love Spit Love classic, "Believe," which proved to be a tempestuous highlight of the set. Led by Good's effects-laden guitar sound, as well as Richard's ominous vocals (some of which were sung directly into a megaphone), the track churned with a seething intensity that stood out impressively from the Furs material. The band built on that momentum with a capricious version of "Danger," which must have been a rare song for the band to play, since it featured Butler looking at a lyric sheet at his feet. The brisk set continued quickly with a venomous rendition of "Alice's House" that pleased all of the old-school fans in the house.
But it was a truly celebratory version of "Pretty In Pink" which garnered the strongest reaction from the audience. With the band bathed in a pinkish-purple light, Butler preened and pantomimed the song's familiar lyrics to his adoring fans. The track is a musical manifestation of the spirit of the '80s, thanks in no small part to John Hughes, and is truly a pleasure to hear live, causing nearly everyone in the club to smile throughout the wistful number. After a somewhat tepid version of "Easy Street," things picked back up with the soaring, anthemic "Heaven," which found Butler dancing around the stage in time to the infectious rhythm and lifting his scrawny arms to the sky.
The unreleased deep-cut "Wrong Train" was another surprise, and bristled with a fitful urgency, closing out with Butler singing the song's final lyrics alone under the spotlight. "Heartbreak Beat" was another clear standout, with the band really locking in on the track's ebullient, uplifting chorus. After each rousing ovation the group received, Richard would bounce exuberantly on his toes, as if truly surprised to hear how much his songs still mean to people. But other than a quick "Ta" between songs, he didn't say anything else to the crowd, instead letting the taut set speed on to the next number.
The solemn "Sleep Comes Down" closed out the main set in a stately manor, with Williams leading the way with what appeared to be a piccolo clarinet, which added a certain majesty to the song. Richard left the stage to a quick ovation while the song was winding down, and the rest of the band shortly followed suit. After a few minutes, the group returned for a two-song encore, which started out with a prolonged saxophone intro from Williams that led smoothly into a feisty, determined version of "All Of This And Nothing."
A highly-charged rendition of "Only You And I" closed out the short set on a high note, with Butler singing the last of the lyrics crouched on the stage in a prayer-like position, espousing his hard-earned wisdom one last time to his faithful fans that have found deep meaning in his lyrics over all these years. There were a lot of stellar songs ("India" and "Until She Comes" to name just a few) that sadly went unplayed because of their truncated set (they had to be done by 10 to accommodate Ritmo Caliente, and unfortunately started 20 minutes late), but the Psychedelic Furs don't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon, and hopefully they come back soon enough to play some more gems from their illustrious back catalog for their loyal fans that show up each and every time.
Critic's Bias: The Furs music didn't quite reach me in Waukesha, WI in the Eighties, but I have grown to take their music to my heart over the years. I also hadn't seen them perform in over ten years.
The Crowd: It was an older crowd than I've seen at First Avenue in a while, but what the crowd lacked in youth they more than made up for in spirit and enthusiasm.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I wish I could wear sunglasses all day at my job."
Random Notebook Dump: The esteemed Tom Tom Club opened the show with a playful, covers-heavy set that certainly was crowd-pleasing, easily elevating the mood of the club in the process. A synth-heavy cover of the Drifters' classic "Under The Boardwalk," went over well, as did both of their big hits, "Genius Of Love" and "Wordy Rappinghood." The end of the set was a knowing nod to Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouths storied history with their famous "other band' the Talking Heads, as they tore emphatically through spirited takes on "Take Me To The River" and "Psycho Killer," which ended their performance strongly. The joyous band took a group bow, soaking in their well-deserved ovation before announcing that they would be singing anything Tom Tom Club related over at the merch stand.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Dave Eckblad.
The Psychedelic Furs Setlist:
Like A Stranger
Love My Way
Believe (Love Spit Love)
Pretty In Pink
Sleep Comes Down
All Of This And Nothing (Encore)
Only You And I (Encore)