WORDS AND IMAGES PAUL EVANS
‘On This Performance The Psychedelic Furs Continue To Be Such An Important Band And Are As Relevant Now As They Were 40 Years Ago’
It’s nearly 30 years since the Psychedelic Furs last studio recording and it’s thirty-six years since I was blown away by “The Ghost in You”, “Love My Way” and “India”. They were the quintessential New Wave band for me. Led by the brilliance of vocalist Richard Butler and his brother Tim on bass, they fused the crashing passion of post-punk, sardonic lyrics and Art School style over four gloriously creative albums. All perfect for a 16-year-old David Robert Jones fan in the mid 1980s. The Butler brothers are joined on this tour by long-time band members, guitarist Rich Good; keyboardist Amanda Kramer; Mars Williams on sax and newcomer Zack Alford on drums. Newcomer sounds a little underwhelming as Zack’s pedigree includes playing with Bowie for several years.
It’s 7.30pm, a quiet Manchester Sunday, early for a gig and not raining. It probably should be given the name of the headliners tour though. The Academy 2 is pleasantly full for the support bands, the recently re-formed and legendary Wasted Youth and the equally legendary Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls.
Active for only a brief spell in the early 80s, Wasted Youth produced a series of astounding post-punk singles. It’s a quick but spectacular set, blending early Goth and pure rock ‘n’ roll. Kens voice is stunning and guitarist Rocco twists beautiful feedback from his Gretsch on classic tracks “Jealousy” (Small Faces meets the Velvet Underground), “I wish I was a girl” (Bauhaus meets well, Wasted Youth) and set closer “(Do the) Caveman” (The Cramps meet, well Wasted Youth again). They all sounded as good tonight as they did when I danced to them back in the day. The Invisible Girls were formally the backing band for Salford’s legendary John Cooper Clarke way back in 1980, a band which then included Martin Hannett, Vini Reilly, John Mayer and Bernard Sumner which is some pedigree. Pauline recorded an underrated gem of an album with them in 1980 and “Shoot You Down” and “Dream Sequence” were stunning tonight. Pauline’s voice and the band at the top of their game on a series of underrated new wave pop gems in another short set. There was an early curfew so I’m guessing this is why sets are fast and short so far.
The changeovers between bands are fast and hectic. As a drum kit is taken off the packed stage for the last time, I look round and noticed how full the room is. Having been name checked as influences by REM, The Killers, Foo Fighters and been lyrically sampled by The Strokes, it’s good to see that tonight’s packed crowd is a mixture of ages for tonights headliner, The Psychedelic Furs.
Electric blue lights the stage as the evocative keyboard intro to the cutting “Highwire Days” begins. Tim going to stage right jokingly cupping his ear for the crowds’ cheers. The hypnotic rhythm disturbed by screaming saxophone and the authoritative swagger of Richard as he bows, pushes up his sleeves and begins his vocals, gesturing his arms to passionately accentuate his words. With a seasick rhythm and frictional saxophone, 1981 single, “Dumb Waiters” continues the slow tempo, likewise “You’ll Be Mine” from “Made of Rain”. A wall of tribal sound perfectly interjects with eastern saxophone, subtle “Venus in Furs” keyboard and Richards flawless demanding vocal. The crowd are mostly motionless, mesmerised as Richard, standing still accentuates his vocals with dancing hands and arms. Max freely wanders the stage and Tim silently mouths the lyrics with his brother or enigmatically looks out into the crowd. Only three songs in and it’s difficult not to stand open-mouthed.
The tempo picks up with a stunning “Mr Jones”, the steam train beat snapping the crowd from temporary hypnosis. Richard is smiling and jumping on the spot as the sax screams and somehow occupies its own space within the songs sound. Not for the last time, the band are prowling the stage and the energy is remarkable. “So good, so far” Richard sings. No truer words, I’ve never heard a better song played live ever. Period.
The new songs tonight are progressive and surrounded by passionately creative musicians are played to perfection. Highlights are the thunderous rhythm of the “The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll”; the driving bass and angular guitar of “No‐One”; the hypnotic vocals and gentle harmonies of “Ash Wednesday” and the extraordinary saxophone on “This’ll Never Be Like Love”. This is definitely not a going through the motions performance. Richard is still a fantastic showman throughout, jumping on the spot, crouching down to sing to the crowd, using hand gestures to accentuate his feelings. I capture him smiling to himself a couple of times too, he seems to be really enjoying it. The band continue to stalk the stage, Max swapping Saxophone with percussion when needed, Tim resting his foot on the monitors leaning into the crowd. A further two guitarists were also swapping places on and off the stage. I’m not sure how they move so freely as a seven-piece on such a small stage.
There’s a cheer when the keyboard intro to the glorious “Ghost in You” begins and I feel a tear in my eye. It’s always been a perfect, perfect song and I murmur the words along with the crowd “Angels fall like rain” as Richard mimics falling rain with his hands. “Inside you, the time moves, and she don’t fade” continues the crowd. It’s been well worth the 38 year wait to hear this live. “Pretty in Pink” explodes around the room in a sea of pounding drums and guitar. The crowd jumping and singing “Isn’t sheeeee, Pretty in Pink?”, hands dancing in the air to the solo. “Love My Way” and “Heaven” are both delicate and utterly perfect showcasing Richards still extraordinary voice as he holds a seriously long note at the end of “Heaven”. Blowing a kiss to the crowd he leaves the stage with the band to massive cheers before they return to where it all began playing two tracks from their debut LP.
“Sister Europe”, the traditional set opener is first, the bands homage to the Velvet Underground and Bowie. Max’s saxophone is outstanding once again. Someone in the crowd has been asking for “India” for a few songs now and it’s finally here. Richard tapping percussion in the songs slow build-up before it tribally detonates into a driving, angst ridden anthem. The saxophone, once again filling the sound space perfectly before the band leave to excessive cheers.
I’m finally hearing one of my favourite bands live and I don’t want the set to end to be honest. However, on this performance the Psychedelic Furs will continue to be such an important band and are as relevant now as they were 40 years ago so I should get to see them again really, really soon. You should too.
Richard Butler – Vocals
Tim Butler – Bass
Mars Williams – Saxophone
Amanda Kramer – Keyboards
Rich Good – Guitars
Zack Alford – Drums
1.) Highwire Days
2.) Dumb Waiters
3.) You’ll Be Mine
4.) Mr. Jones
5.) Wrong Train
6.) The Ghost in You
7.) The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll
9.) Pretty in Pink
10.) Love My Way
11.) Ash Wednesday
12.) President Gas
13.) This’ll Never Be Like Love
15.) Sister Europe
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I’ve loved music since forever. Graphic designer, photographer and artist at painted.papillon.smile (www.ppsdesign.co.uk)