LIVE: Psychedelic Furs @ Upstate Concert Hall, 8/12/15

August 19th, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg

Review by Steven Stock

Psychedelic Furs’ lead singer Richard Butler took the stage at the Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park last week flashing a thousand-watt grin, hopping up and down like an over-amped boxer impatient for the opening bell. Opening with 1984’s “Heartbeat,” the Furs proceeded to tear through a generous 17-song set, quickly dispelling any fears that the evening would be a mere exercise in ’80s nostalgia.

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Transcending nostalgia certainly wasn’t a given for a band that hasn’t released a new studio album since 1991’s under-appreciated World Outside. With only two newer songs featured in this performance (“Wrong Train” from 2001’s out-of-print Live from House of Blues DVD and “Little Miss World”), it doesn’t seem like we should expect any product soon.

The paucity of new material left plenty of room for the hits, and this latest six-piece Furs’ incarnation delivered them with swagger and panache. “Pretty in Pink,” “Love My Way,” “Heaven,” “The Ghost in You” and “Heartbreak Beat” – all artfully interspersed throughout the set ensuring that even casual fans didn’t lose interest. Saxophonist Mars Williams, who after apprenticing with the Waitresses joined the Furs in 1984 for their fourth LP Mirror Moves, was particularly outstanding, while drummer Paul Garisto (who signed on for the subsequent Midnight to Midnight) proved to be quite a powerhouse when unshackled from the horrid ’80s drum sound that afflicted the latter album. New guitarist Rich Good conjured an impressive squall on “There’s a World” and “House,” while bassist Tim Butler (who’s accompanied his brother since the band’s 1977’s inception) kept a steady pulse.

Richard Butler used his raspy growl effectively but perhaps more interesting was his oversize stage presence. He really hammed it up, first clutching the mike with his right hand while using his left to dramatically emphasize lyrics almost as if he were miming, then striking the trademark Bowie/Ronson arm draped over guitarist pose, and finally crouching to clasp hands with audience members. To be honest it could’ve been cheesy – it should’ve been cheesy – but Butler’s obvious energy and enthusiasm sold it, and the near-capacity crowd loved every hackneyed gesture.

Quibbles? Keyboard player Amanda Kramer (best known for her long stint with the excellent Golden Palominos) should’ve been more prominent in the mix, although overall the sound was quite good. It also would have been nice to hear more of the Furs’ stunning debut album – as it was, we had to wait until the encore for that album’s sole outing, a mesmerizing version of “Sister Europe.” Love that inexorable doom-laden bass line!

Opening act the Church chose an entirely different tack for their well-received opening set, eschewing a hits-based approach for a willfully idiosyncratic neo-psychedelic set list. The first show in rock history to start early (providing the band a sound check) opened with two tracks from 1982’s The Blurred Crusade, the wistful “When You Were Mine” and “Field of Mars.” (On seven tour dates without the Furs, the Church will be performing The Blurred Crusade in its entirety). Longtime live favorite “Reptile” still sounds great, while a luminous “Under the Milky Way” had some of the many couples in the audience slow-dancing, others making out like the teenagers they once were.

Highlight of the 11-song set was “The Disillusionist” from 1992’s Priest=Aura, with Steve Kilbey putting down his guitar so he could fully inhabit the cracked actor persona of the song’s protagonist – the first touch of Bowie-ness in a night that boasted several. “Toy Head,” “Delirious” and especially the closing “Miami” from the new Further Deeper album show that the Church still churn out fascinating songs even as their commercial profile has waned. It turned out not to be ’80s night after all in Clifton Park – rather it was a 2015 night, and it was pretty great!

SECOND OPINIONS:
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “For those who came of age in the ’80s, the Psychedelic Furs were like the coolest prom-theme band you could image — dark and edgy but writing hugely catchy and danceable pop songs about the euphoria and heartbreak of true love. Although they had their uncompromising moments onstage — including the heavy, driving ‘Mr. Jones’ and the dirgy ‘Susan’s Strange’ — the British band’s set was skewed toward its pop hits. No one was complaining. The crowd responded passionately to upbeat, aching-heart ’80s songs like ‘Love My Way,’ ‘The Ghost in You’ and ‘Heartbreak Beat.’ Expressive frontman Richard Butler played those hits to the hilt, adding animated hand gestures and theatrical dance moves and generally looking like he was having a blast. His black-clad band, including his bassist brother Tim and impressive saxophonist Mars Williams, flanked him, sounding great. The pairing of the Furs with teen-flick director John Hughes on the cult film ‘Pretty in Pink’ was a zeitgeist moment in the ’80s — perhaps no one better captured teen angst and longing through an intersection of music and film. With Williams’ sax blaring, the Furs treated the crowd to that ultimate ‘80s teen soundtrack anthem before closing their set with the intoxicating and much darker ‘Sister Europe.'”

PSYCHEDELIC FURS SET LIST
Heartbeat
Mr. Jones
Heaven
There’s a World Outside
Love My Way
Little Miss World
Until She Comes
Susan’s Strange
The Ghost in You
Heartbreak Beat
Only You and I
Wrong Train
Highwire Days
House
Pretty in Pink
ENCORES
Sister Europe
Sleep Comes Down

THE CHURCH SET LIST
When You Were Mine
Field of Mars
Block
Reptile
Toy Head
Metropolis
The Disillusionist
Delirious
You Took
Under the Milky Way
Miami