Psychedelic Furs Warehouse Live April 23, 2010
The Psychedelic Furs are very much a throwback band, but not in the way you might be thinking. Thanks largely to John Hughes, the Butler brothers' UK crew will forever be remembered as one of the premier musical avatars of the suave, sunglassed '80s.
Pretty In Pink aside, the Furs have always been painted with the post-punk brush. There is some truth to that - other than simply chronological, that is - but it's only half the story.
Besides Richard Butler's warm baritone blanket of a voice, which was in fine form as the singer grinned and cantered about the Warehouse Live stage Saturday, the Furs' main musical calling card is a direct descendent of rock and roll progenitors like King Curtis and Louis Jordan. This art-minded crew of Londoners, in other words, is arguably the last pop group to use saxophone rather than guitars or keyboards to steer its songs.
Then again, if you had a formidable pair of lips like those of "Mighty" Mars Williams in your band, you'd be a fool not to use them as much as possible. Williams was not yet a Fur when the group recorded 1981's Talk Talk Talk - which comprised the entirety of the group's first of two sets - but the way the pint-size tenorman dominated the songs Saturday, it's hard to imagine anyone else doing them now.
First and foremost, of course, is the timeless riff to "Pretty In Pink," which Williams captured so perfectly that Aftermath started scanning the Ballroom (about two-thirds full) for James Spader. So did the other Furs in his wake, Richard Butler setting his vocals on medium smirk, or about half the level of predecessor and opener "Dumb Waiters."
Williams' sheets of sound ranged from avant-garde noise Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa might recognize ("Dumb Waiters," "President Gas"), all the way over to the other end of the sax-time continuum with the nearly easy-listening tones of "Heartbreak Beat." He blew in a good bit of brusque R&B honk as well, most distinctively on "Mr. Jones."
Meanwhile, although they had to work around Williams to some degree, the other Furs were hardly sitting on their thumbs. Rich Good's Sly Stone-ish guitar on "It Goes On" proved the Furs can be some fairly funky blokes when they want to be, and he and keyboardist Amanda Kramer shone on the delicate "Love My Way."
Inscrutably shaded bassist Tim Butler and drummer Paul Garisto kept up a lively pulse all night, appropriately driving on "Into You Like a Train" and unexpectedly tender on "She Is Mine," a close cousin to "Pretty In Pink."
Richard Butler seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously, rarely ceasing to smile whether barking out the most punk-rock song of the night, "So Run Down," or letting his closet romantic emerge on the sleek and straightforward "I Wanna Sleep With You" and especially "Heaven" in the second set.
But then, he had a lot to smile about. Powered by the diesel lungs of their saxophonist, the Furs wove an aural tapestry of moody nostalgia that nodded to the Doors, Roxy Music and both Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin years, but ultimately was as uniquely theirs as when Talk Talk Talk first hit record stores.
Aftermath's only - and very slight - criticism is that the show seemed a touch monochomatic in spots, but with colors this rich you really only need two or three. As long as pink is one of them.
Personal Bias: Not much. Always liked the Furs; never really been into them like a train. Sorry.
The Crowd: A friend of ours told us at the show the Furs soundtracked his college years; no doubt he was far from alone Saturday: Thirty- and fortysomethings, lots of couples, everyone enjoying themselves at least as much as Richard Butler, if not more.
Overheard In the Crowd: A needle skipping on the PA when the Furs left the stage after finishing Talk Talk Talk, which we thought was a nice touch.
Random Notebook Dump: Williams' sax on "All of This and Nothing" reminded us of a soundtrack when some guy is running through anonymous, abandoned city streets really, really late at night. We're not sure if the actual movie even exists or not, but it should.
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