Brothers Richard and Tim Butler have such a strong love of performance that it’s not hard to see why they keep touring the Psychedelic Furs despite the band’s last album dropping in 1991.
To be fair, the Psychedelic Furs went through an intensively creative period in the first half of the ’80s, putting out timeless post-punk gems like “Love My Way,” “Heaven” and of course “Pretty in Pink.” When the Furs tour, they hit those highlights as well as “Heartbreak Beat” and “Highwire Days” naturally. Richard Butler, theatric and emotive, sings with his whole body, literally walking the audience through the songs on occasion. Bass player Tim Butler, silent in shades, stands behind his famously emotive brother, looking like the muscle in the room suggesting, “Yeah, you better listen to what he said.”
And what Richard says, or sings rather, is a well-loved catalog of songs about heartache and cynicism all delivered softly, lyrically and passionately. The Furs have a new song, “Little Miss World,” which fits in smartly with their better-known older songs. My personal favorite “All of This and Nothing” gave us a sharp saxophone solo from Mars Williams, who brilliantly solves the challenge of being in a six member group by taking a break from the stage when he’s not needed there. But the band and singer come together very well and Butler’s message to an ex-lover, “you didn’t leave me anything that I can understand,” always hits me in the gut. The Furs still sound great live and they perform well, easily justifying their longevity.
Still, the Psychedelic Furs have been touring their stuff incessantly, dropping by DC three times in the past 13 months alone. The last time they came by, they sold out The State Theatre in Falls Church, Va., on Saint Patrick’s Day, indicating perhaps they do better in the ‘burbs where nostalgia has a stronger hold than in the city where Miike Snow sells out two shows at the 9:30 Club in one night. The Howard got about 40 percent full Monday night by contrast. I felt the crowd came equally to see The Lemonheads, the Boston-based post-grunge act from Boston, as well as the Furs. Indeed, it almost seemed as if Lemonheads fans were up front for their set and the politely shuffled back from the stage so that Furs fans could leap closer for their preferred act.
I never really cared for The Lemonheads, so their return to the stage with famously drug addled lead singer Evan Dando does little to engage my interest. They have been very busy in the past year or so and they have a new album coming up. I’ll always think of the ’90s as a curious time in the US music scene, full of mope rock and anthems of being down on yourself or being up on drugs. And The Lemonheads always epitomized that scene for me.
In performance, The Lemonheads were decisive and professional. They spoke little if at all except for a polite “Thank you” from Dando at the end of their 40-minute set. The audience received the band well as they gave pitch perfect performances of their best known songs like “Down About It,” “Confetti,” “Hospital” and “My Drug Buddy.” Maybe I just don’t get it?
The first opener for the show were post-punkers The Chevin from Leeds, UK. They were very polished and made for quite pleasant listening. (Chevin interestingly is a European fish, but the Leeds quartet appear to have taken their name from a famous ridge near their city.) Their top single, “Champion,” is representative the soaring and catchy songs they have been writing. But they could still use a splash of creativity to separate them from the pack of successful bands whose songs you hear all the time but cannot actually name (Temper Trap, am I being unkind?). I am very interested in seeing how they develop.
This tour still has some dates left in it with Atlanta tonight and a bunch of shows in Florida before winding down in New Orleans and Dallas. It offers a little bit of something for everyone, so it could offer a good excuse to go catch up with some old favorites and maybe find a new one in The Chevin. If you miss the Psychedelic Furs this time around, I’m sure they will be back again soon however.