Photos by Shaun Hollingsworth. Scroll down for the complete slideshow.
The show was billed as “an evening with The Psychedelic Furs” and indeed, it was just that. After a brief introduction (and no opener), the band took the stage at The Orange Peel and, with a blare of saxophone, immediately launched into “Dumb Waiters” off 1981’s Talk Talk Talk.
The Furs, together since the late 1970s, have gone through a number of iterations (including a decade-long hiatus leading up to 2000). The current lineup includes founding members Richard Butler (vocals) and Tim Butler (bass) with Mars Williams (saxophone), Amanda Kramer (keyboards), Paul Garisto (drums) and Richard Good (guitar). Close your eyes and the band sounds like they always have. Perhaps not in the punk-roots-playing-The-Nashville-in-London-circa-1979-with-David-Bowie-and-John-Lydon-in-the-audience way, but certainly in an authentic, passionate and practiced way.
Two songs into the evening, the band pulled out “Pretty In Pink.” You can read about the band’s hot-and-cold relationship with that song here (second paragraph), but the audience was certainly not mixed in its feelings. Much dancing ensued.
By three or fours songs into the Talk Talk Talk set (the band played the album in its entirety; this current tour celebrates that record’s 30th anniversary) one thing was apparent: The ‘80s had a much higher tolerance for saxophone. Which is not to say that saxophone is in anyway a bad thing, or that saxophonist Williams didn’t perform brilliantly. Indeed, Williams spent nearly as much time kanoodling with the audience as did Richard. But saxophone intros and leads and solos on every song sounds very much of an era.
“It Goes Down” brought a solid drum solo. Both Kramer and Good proved to be skilled and steady musicians who added tasteful if very occasional flourishes. The main show was, of course, Richard’s vocal and his stage antics — a theatrical anger, a military salute, an exaggerated shimmy, a campy faux-bored resting of his chin on the mic stand. Tim (Richard’s brother) had some stage antics of his own — rock star poses with his bass and lip-synching lyrics while lunging toward the audience. Considering he didn’t have a vocal mic, that showmanship was pretty much over the top. It might have been cute was he was 22; not so much at 52.
The Psychedelic Furs wrapped the first set with a soaring, open-sounding “She Is Mine;” Tim threw his pick to the audience and the band left the stage. After a short break, they were back to play their hits, leading with “Sister Europe” off their 1980 debut album. That record (produced by Steve Lillywhite) is considered by some fans to be the band’s best. Dark and atmospheric, it’s closer to the punk and experimental roots of the Furs’ beginnings. On stage, a smoke machine either added to or subtracted from (depending on your views on smoke machines) that ambiance.
Other hits included “Love My Way” from Forever Now (1982) — a very true-to-the-original rendition with Richard easily hitting the high notes — “Heaven” from Mirror Moves (1984) and “Heartbreak Beat” from Midnight to Midnight (1987). It was that album that Richard has said, in interviews, made him physically ill, despite its mainstream success. According to the band’s biography, Psychedelic Furs: Beautiful Chaos, it wasn’t until they reunited after 2000 that Richard finally admitted that “Heatbreak Beat” really wasn’t a bad song after all. Indeed, on the Orange Peel stage it was a perfect balance of pop-noir verses and layered keys and guitars.
The Psychedelic Furs returned to the stage for an encore that included “My Time” (Mirror Moves), wrapping up a show that was somewhat nostalgic, but certainly didn’t come off like a revue or a retrospective. Talk Talk Talk was especially energetic and surprisingly not dated. Since the band is still going strong, it would be great to see them perform some fresh material — here’s hoping the next few years sees a new release from the Psychedelic Furs. It’s certainly been a long time coming.