Rock and roll without the Velvet Underground or the Stooges is as unimaginable as rock and roll without Chuck Berry. And you can be sure that the current crop of bands pillaging the music and visual flair of the '80s don't know "Sister Ray" from Shinola, let alone Robert Johnson from Holly Johnson.
That isn't a crime, but ignorance paraded as "fun" is anything but. Both the Velvets and the Stooges, even in their most experimental and confrontational moments, always knew where their music was coming from and where it had the potential to go.
The Psychedelic Furs, post-punk's unholy amalgamation of the Velvets, post-Ziggy Stardust Bowie and (naturally) the Sex Pistols, are celebrating the 30th anniversary of sophomore album Talk Talk Talk with a limited run of shows, including Saturday at Warehouse Live. The Furs will do two sets: TTT from beginning to end, followed by a set of songs chosen from throughout the band's entire career.
The Psychedelic Furs
8 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483 or www.warehouselive.com.
The album opens with one of the Furs' best-known songs, an unsympathetic ode to the promiscuous "Caroline," who "doesn't have anything you want to steal..." and whose "first" has forgotten her name. Five years after appearing on TTT, the song lent its name to a certain John Hughes movie.
"Pretty in Pink" may be the blockbuster, but its parent album includes nine other songs that are just as distinctive. Talk Talk Talk hangs together conceptually thanks to recurring lyrics that address love or the lack of it, as well as the particular kind of angst we're all supposed to shed after we've "grown up."
Did the Furs plan that concept out in advance?
"It was all rather intuitive," says singer and lyricist Richard Butler. "Rather than being about puppy love, I think it addressed more the notion or possibility that love itself was an unrealistic idea. There is a certain 'angst' that is never shed, I feel...a searching for faith...an alienation."
The current touring incarnation of the Furs includes Butler on vocals; his brother Tim on bass; the great Mars Williams, who first joined the Furs on their album Mirror Moves, on saxophone; Williams's fellow Midnight to Midnight alum Paul Garisto on drums; former Golden Palominos vocalist and Information Society (!) member Amanda Kramer on keyboards; and the excellent Rich Good on guitars.
The Furs' wall of sound on their 1980 self-titled debut and TTT was as seductive as it was confrontational. Was this "beautiful chaos" the result of consensus among several strong musical personalities?
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"The early 'wall of sound' the Furs achieved was indeed the result of a lot of voices wanting to be heard. It was certainly not by plan," says Butler. "However, when we saw what was happening, we certainly embraced and capitalized on it."
That early sound will be in full effect at Warehouse Live. In a recent interview, Good gleefully describes the "white noise" he and Williams unleash for performances of TTT's "Dumb Waiters."
Lyrics like: "I met this girl and I called her 'ma' / I called her everything / I called her 'fab' and Mrs. Fish / I didn't get her name..." or "I don't want to make no scene / Or make you Mrs. Anyone / I'm into you like a train..." reveal a sense of humor that's not just sardonic.
"There was and is a good deal of humor in the Psychedelic Furs' songs," Butler confirms, in addition to a "wide emotional range [that] certainly makes them enjoyable to play today."