Thursday, July 7, 2011

Performance Review - Psychedelic Furs

On June 7, 2011, the Psychedelic Furs played Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom, and I was there.

My affair with the Furs runs long and deep, as they hit me in a way that few bands did in my impressionable youth and still do today (this very minute even), which speaks to the power and timelessness of their music. And yet in many ways, and especially to the world outside (Get it? No? You will…), they remain an enigma. They’re one of those seminal 80s bands that everyone can sing a song or three, but no one really knows much about them, i.e. no one is really a “fan.” I’ve known some exceptions to that rule, JT being one and J-Hern being another, but most folks give them a casual nod, whistle “that song,” and move on.

This is a shame, because to put it plainly – The Psychedelic Furs bring it. And they’re still doing so.

Their recorded output ended some 20 years ago with the mostly, even scandalously, even criminally disregarded World Outside, one of three masterpieces in their brief but compelling catalog, and the mature (ten years on), even logical foil to the “beautiful chaos” of their 1980 self-titled debut.

For this tour they’re touting their much lauded and equally fantastic sophomore album (for its 30th anniversary), Talk Talk Talk. Still the original six piece wielding two guitars and a saxophonist, they effectively harnessed the all but controlled tumbling wall of sound from the debut and honed the edges into a more pop recognizable if not quite radio friendly blend of delicate snarl and raucous melody, the “everything punk can be” pushed to its final limits before breaking into something, well, transcendent, even socially defining (the stark realism found in these songs, though veiled, is truly staggering). This is the album that gave us Pretty in Pink, so I don’t have to tell you the cultural significance of that in and of itself.

And though this was not the classic line up that made the album, or even the full core members from their 80s heyday, we did get both Butler brothers (of course) and saxophonist Mars Williams (Midnight to Midnight, the soundtrack version of PiP, other 80s stuff you’ve definitely heard), plus Amanda Kramer from Golden Palominos and Information Society fame. Round it off with a couple of, relatively, newcomers, Richard Good on guitar and Paul Garisto on drums, and you had a solid band that was professional, competent and there to take us on a trip down memory lane.

Classic Talk Talk Talk line up

So, the Furs took the stage promptly at 8:00 and immediately kicked into the Talk Talk Talk album. This was the original UK track running, so Dumb Waiters came first, and it was as blistering, sardonic and borderline apocalyptic as it ever could have been 30 years ago. Richard Butler, still lithe in build and ever light on his feet, came out immediately charming, smiling, drawing us into the obscure yet insightful poetry of his lyrics, acting out the words as if playing the characters he sings about. He's truly a charismatic and inspiring performer...though I have to say Mars Williams about stole the show, and Richard both knew it and loved it.

And that, to sum it up, was the show.

Aside from a couple of thank yous, the band didn’t let up for the full 40 plus minutes of the album, keeping me on my toes with the unfamiliar order of the tracks, and following the notes and beats to the letter, which is exactly how you want it, ‘cos aside from great songwriting, it’s the little nuances that make Talk Talk Talk more than post punk, set apart from New Wave, something totally unique unto itself, and yet very distinctly Psychedelic Furs.

After a short break they were back, running through the retro radio hits (Love My Way, Heaven, Heartbreak Beat) and a few lesser known singles (Sister Europe, President Gas, Heartbeat), keeping the crowd engaged, energized and eager for more. Again, through the entire set, the band never lost momentum, never paused longer than it took to change out a guitar, say thanks and then burn into the next tune. I had wondered what Richard’s between song banter would be like, and I was thrilled that he kept it to a minimum, focused entirely on the set, the songs, his craft and, the reason for it all, the audience.

Richard Butler - the main man

I was highly expectant of this show and I was in no way disappointed or let down. Richard was in strong voice (which, after years of his gravely croon, I was sorta surprised about), the song selection was expected but satisfying (sure, there were songs I’d have liked to heard, and I’m saddened that both Book of Days and World Outside went overlooked, but it’s understandable) and the nearly full capacity crowd was truly great (see Nashville, you can do it…now why can’t you do it more often?). Honestly, you couldn’t ask for a better night for two folks for (much) less than the cost of 90% of the current acts who play watered down material with half the heart.

Listen to me kids, there are still a few dates left on the tour, and even if you only remember Pretty in Pink and/or Heartbreak Beat, if you love live music by a great band, go check out the Psychedelic Furs and let them Talk Talk Talk you into love with them.

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