“Love My Way” By The Psychedelic Furs
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Okay, minor gripe out of the way first. This isn’t really “The Psychedelic Furs” performing ‘Talk Talk Talk,’ it’s more like brothers Richard and Tim Butler with four hired hands, but allowing for that, the band gets the tone absolutely spot-on. The most significant absentees have to be guitarists John Ashton and Roger Morris, whose presence was a crucial component of the Furs’ unique approach to their music, but they ain’t here and that’s that. The current line-up make a remarkably fine job of replicating the sound.
Joining the increasingly popular vogue for dipping into your back catalogue and playing an album in its entirety, the Furs have chosen to throw in their lot with 1981’s “Talk Talk Talk”. Much has been made in the promotional blurb for this tour of it being their “breakthrough commercial album” which is somewhat unusual, given that, with the exception of the late 80s “Book Of Days“, it fared worse in the UK charts than any of their other original albums. Its reputation as a commercial success seems to have been retrospectively enhanced by the presence of one song, the one that everybody knows, “Pretty In Pink“. Along with REM’s vicious kiss-off to a spurned lover “The One I Love”, this must surely rank as the most unfortunately misconstrued indie-hit of all time. The Furs are partially to blame themselves of course, due to the over-polished, lacklustre saccharine re-recording they contributed to the film soundtrack, and subsequently the song has become associated with everything fluffy and lovely and 1980s and Molly Ringwald and… well… pink. If you take the time to listen to the lyrics, it’s a bleak gritty tale of emptiness: the heroine Caroline being a lost figure, seeking fulfilment through a series of meaningless sexual encounters with men who quite clearly couldn’t care less (“the one who insists he was first in the line is the last to remember her name”)… charming…
But such is life, and these things happen, but the main question is how will the LP stand up to the played-in-full concert treatment? The answer, in a pleasingly full, suitably slightly shabby nightclub like the Ritz, is that it stands up spectacularly well. The band nail the sound pretty much perfectly, and Richard Butler is still in fine voice. Many artists whose vocal style made great demands on them physically, just can’t take the punishment when it comes to the reformation tour circuit. It’s only to be expected as singers age that they can’t do what they did 20 or 30 years ago, but to listen to Black Francis nowadays is an embarrassment when compared to the free-flying scream that used to issue forth from him, and it’s pretty sad to hear Siouxsie attempt old Banshees numbers these days: her once untouchable soaring howl has been reduced to an open-throated low bellow, and doesn’t do the past legend any favours.
No such worries for Mr Butler on tonight’s showing though. That delicious, louche, weary cigarette-smoked rasp of been-there, done-that decadence is still in pretty much pristine condition. And he appears to be having the time of his life up there, bouncing up and down like a puppy, beaming from ear to ear, not much chat apart from the occasional “ta”, exaggerated bows and aw-shucks grin. The highlights of the LP run-through are a powerful speedy rattle of “Mr Jones”, a beautiful soaring melodic “No Tears”, nicely gritty-edged “Pretty In Pink” and the epic “All Of This And Nothing”. It’s not a lame exercise in nostalgia either; it’s a fitting treatment of a great album by one of the best bands ever to come out of the UK punk/indie scene. Listening to it all, it’s a stark reminder of just how bleak an LP it is lyrically, everything, even the gentler love songs, seemingly tinged with bitterness, irony, regret and longing. It’s not a happy hour record, but tonight it’s a hugely enjoyable thrill to see and hear them play it.
A short interval, a few Piaf tunes over the PA, and the band reappears for a second set of “faves”. They choose to open with a fantastic version of 1980’s “Sister Europe“, slinky and hazy and late-night woozy, Butler’s Bowie-influenced androgynous stage moves all still nicely in evidence. The sax player, obviously on tonight’s evidence a fine musician, almost goes too far with the second of his solos, and nearly blows the slow burn downbeat atmosphere of the song but thankfully stays just the right side of it in the end. Some of the band’s mid-period stuff, like “Heartbeat” and “Heaven” were nice enough pop singles at the time, but not in the great dark vein of their earlier work, and although they pass by as pleasant enough sing-along’s, they suffer in comparison. A nice easy take on “The Ghost In You” and “Love My Way”, fare better, Butler effortlessly hitting the “ah-hooooo” high notes in the latter tune. But there are 3 great high points to the second set: the already mentioned “Sister Europe”, a vicious “President Gas” from the “Forever Now” LP, a scathing political satire which at a couple of points sees Richard Butler drop the smile and stand motionless, a Hitler-style arm salute raised. It’s always a dangerous thing to do stuff like that in a rock n’ roll context, but somehow he gets away with it, and it is a genuinely chilling and confusing thing to see in a gig context.
However, they save the best moment of the show until the very last song. Richard goes to the back of the stage and drops to his knees in front of the drum kit. His back to the audience he raises his arms and silently clicks his fingers in time with the low, gentle instrumental hum of the long introduction to “India”, another track from their mystifyingly under-rated classic debut LP. It builds in volume and tension until it explodes into the most fantastic wild hell-for-leather bash through the song. Suddenly, he ceases to be the jovial bespectacled smiling middle-aged Richard Butler, and just for a short while he’s Butler Rep again, the bleached-out contorted onstage figure from the rear sleeve image of that first LP, barking the startling bizarre cut-up lyrics to the song: “this is stupid, I object… see the ceiling raining spit, the beach is backwards, isn’t it…” I didn’t know what the bloody hell the song was about 30 years ago, I still don’t know, and what’s more I still don’t care. Tonight it’s one of those genuinely transcendental gig moments where nothing but the power of the music matters. The hackles rise, you lose yourself in it totally. Utterly awesome. There is no way in hell they can even attempt to follow that, and I’m glad they don’t try. End of show, houselights come up, and we stagger away happily.
I’m buzzing so much I can’t resist the lure of the “Talk Talk Talk” souvenir tea mug at the merch stall on the way out. Lovely full colour LP sleeve artwork and a mere 6 quid! Well, let’s be honest, sex and drugs and rock n roll have their place, but once you’re a punk/indie/goth veteran, there’s a lot to be said for a mug of tea, a ginger biscuit, and a nice sit-down.
All round, a top evening, a blast from the past from one of the finest bands in UK indie history. Into you like a train…indeed.
Richard The Goth.
The Furry Cup
“Pretty In Pink” Live- Manchester
And way back when ….on a show that looks like its actually from the 50’s not the 80’s…
“We Love You”
- Song Of The Day – “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs (chicagonow.com)