Monday, June 8, 2009

The Furs in my life, live ...

Here is the long-awaited overview of live Psychedelic Furs shows. I can't wait to see the band tonight.
So, how many times have I seen the Furs? I’m not sure exactly. It gets to be blurry after a while. But I think with this tour, they'll surpass Echo & the Bunnymen and local Boston bands, as the band I have seen most.
It was July 1984 when I would first see the Psychedelic Furs at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, with my still-friend Donna and this guy she liked at the time named John. We had great seats about 15 or 20 rows from the stage on the left-hand side of the theatre. Talk Talk opened, and they were good too. They had this acoustic guitar player jumping all over the place - around the stage, off the speakers - until he landed right on his backside, cracking up the entire crowd. We speculated that he was a sideman trying to show off to get some.
When the Furs hit the stage I remember thinking just how full they sounded as they attempted to reproduce the sound of their four records. Richard Butler sounded gritty yet wispy singing but fell flat when the band kicked into the chorus of its new single, "The Ghost in You." I can still hear it in my skull now, almost as if they dropped the chorus down a notch because he couldn't hit the high note which is so brilliantly mixed in layers on the recorded version. I remember Donna and me gasping in horror but later, as I would develop my own music, understanding the nuances of striking a number of bad vocal notes over the years...
In the summer of 1986, the Psychedelic Furs launched a short arena tour. Originally, they were slated to play in August at Great Woods outside of Boston, but the gig was cancelled due to rain. This show was in late September, so there was a slight chill in the air.
The band was incredible but Butler seemed to be losing his voice. The band was doing its best to compensate, not playing songs that would be too difficult. The new songs, eventually released on “Midnight to Midnight,” were unknown to everyone. But they were danceable and kinda ran together, along the lines of “Heartbeat.” Having not heard the recorded versions, it was difficult to cast an opinion. They played a slew of older songs like “Into You Like a Train” and “Sister Europe,” with a sloppy version of “India.”

In early 1987 when I found out the Furs were going to play the Worcester Centrum, a 12,000 seat arena, I couldn’t believe it. At first, my friend Leo and I were going to go but then, I forgot to pick up my tickets at the ticket agency [Out of Town News in Harvard Square] and they cancelled my order. Since the Furs were huge, I decided not to go, since I assumed we wouldn’t get good seats. However, at the last minute decision to go yielded seats just off to the left of the stage, up a couple of rows. Here’s what I wrote:
They have sharpened themselves and are now a biting band. My love for this band is more important to me than the age of the crowd at the show (I was part of the older generation, mostly young Molly Ringwald tarts but a few diehards like myself) and to my surprise, they played a nice collection of songs from the last three albums and some classic oldies including “Sister Europe,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “Mr. Jones.” The set also included some album cuts very rarely played live by the Furs including “Only You and I” and “No Easy Street.” Butler was at his sexual height, rolling around, groveling at the crowd like a vicious hot cat. Mmm, yeah! The show was full of energy; the band sounded good. The second guitarist, Marty Williamson, took a great solo on “One More Word.” Mars Williams, relax sax man, was toking them out, belting melodies everywhere and John Ashton was his usual lush self, stumbling about, cranking them out. On “All of the Law,” he was spectacular; the opening line riff is too much. Better than the Great Woods show of last year and now a top notch, top form band. I was having a blast and then, the encore came with an atrocious version of “Heartbreak Beat” … but the younger crowd went nuts. Ah, youth! They did “Shock” and “President Gas,” which was good, and a second encore not including “India,” the last time they played it, it was terrible. Everyone must grow up sometime and the Furs have. They did and I love them for it because they did it their way! Good times and I’m sure many more!
I was lucky enough to see the Furs twice on the “Book of Days” tour – in Boston in November 1989 and again in Miami, in April 1990.
The Boston show was a good one; with the exception of the horrible security guards who wouldn’t let anyone dance or even stand up during the show. The band was incredible and put together the best show ever in Boston. Here’s what I wrote:
Gone were the prepubescent Molly Ringwald clones, gone were the flashy light show and pretentious pantomiming of its lead singer. Gone was the slick, dance rock flash that made them stars to the MTV generation. It was the return of the raw edge Furs of yesterday. It was a welcome change.
Our weathered troupe hit the state with an intense attack, wall of feedback in tow, they launched into “Into You Like a Train” and “It Goes On” from “Talk, Talk, Talk.” The Furs then picked out lost strands from their repertoire … songs they hadn’t played in many years [“We Love You,” “No Tears,” “Imitation of Christ,” and “Goodbye”] and others from their very personal, very dark new album “Book of Days.” Of the new tunes, “Shine” did just that, “Entertain Me,” and “Should God Forget,” roared with blank melodies and blasting guitars.
What a change and so much more impressive than playing a warhorse like “Pretty in Pink.” Also missing from the set was “Midnight to Midnight,” the whole album and all of “Mirror Moves” except for “Heaven,” which got the ho-hum crowd to its feet but it was way too late in the set.
Acoustic cello on “Torch” and “Sleep Comes Down” livened up the sound and a biting version of “All That Money Wants,” acoustic guitar in tow.
The Miami show was good but not as powerful as the Boston show. I assumed it was because of the heat. But the newly returned Vince Ely was off on a few songs. Singer Richard Butler was touching fans and dancing around. They played “High Wire Days” and “Here Come Cowboys,” along with “Forever Now,” “President Gas,” and “No Easy Street,” but the set was hampered by a lack of energy and poorly drawn set list. They surged at times; drowned at others.

For the “World Outside” tour, the Furs played much smaller theatres. In Boston, the band played the Paradise [less than 700 capacity]. At the time I wrote, “the environment proved to be exciting and challenging for the band.”
After a shaky, plodding opener (the usually strong “Heaven”), the band gained footing and shined. Songs from the mediocre new CD, “World Outside,” proved better on the small state: “Valentine,” “In My Head,” and “Sometimes,” held their own against classics such as “Only You and I,” “She Is Mine,” “Run, Run, Run,” and the colossal “Dumb Waiters.” Even the hits sounded fresh: “Love My Way” tranced along as did “Pretty in Pink” and the much missed “The Ghost In You,” which they haven’t done around here since 1984! The guitars roared as did the new drummer playing well along with the new sequenced material. The weakest point here was the keyboardist who plunked along with bad patches and played no songs from their brilliant last album “Book of Days.” Too bad, since that’s been their strongest effort in years.
The Furs would take nearly a decade off but later, reformed to seemingly cash in, for lack of a better term, on the nostalgia that many Gen-Xers now seek [Not unlike, in some ways, the things their parents searched before them]. Between the summer of 2000 and fall of 2001, the Furs would play Boston three times and later, Burlington, Vermont, of all places, in 2005. The 2000 to 2001 shows seemed to have, from memory, the same playlists, a string of hits and maybe a new song, or, just about everything that fans would expect for their $20 to $30 [the band would also be honored by the Mass. Legislature, at the prompting of long-time fan, Rep. Kevin Honan]. I particularly remember the show opening for the B-52s and the Go-Go’s to be quite good. The other thing I noticed in that string of shows was that the band matured and played better than ever before and Butler, who was not the best of singers, had actually become a pretty decent singer. The distinct voice is still there but the shakiness is totally gone [Check out Butler’s recent solo album if you don’t believe he can sing].

But what would the ultimate set list be?

It’s hard to say. For a long time fan like me, ideally it would be all those obscure or album tracks you never [or rarely] hear live … “House,” “In My Head,” “Only You and I,” “Highwire Days,” etc. … along with a smattering of hits like, “Heaven” and “Love My Way.” It’s hard to say what we’ll hear on this tour but Butler told the Nashua Telegraph on June 4 that the band would be playing songs they had never played live before. That will be interesting to hear.

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