While '80s nostalgia has proven its enduring appeal on the tour circuit, few bands have the back catalog, not to mention the chops, to keep things fresh even without new material. Saturday night at the Henry Fonda Theatre, The Psychedelic Furs proved they still do, more than 20 years after their heyday.
Along with opening set by The Lemonheads, it was a retro rock spectacle that felt anything but dated, even during crowd sing-a-longs to songs that evoked the new wave decade in all its bittersweet flamboyance.
The Furs belong to a pretty exclusive club in this way. Like peer bands such as Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran Duran and Culture Club (who just disappointed legions of fans when they canceled their upcoming tour), their sound and image meld melancholy moods, memorable choruses, bouncy dance beats, and alluringly androgynous personas. For those of us who grew up in the 80's, the music conjures awkward self-discovery — crushes on boys with guyliner, our longing for love fueled by the fairy tale schmaltz of John Hughes movies and school dance moves free and flailing (think Molly Ringwald’s arm-swing in the Brat Pack flicks).
“Pretty in Pink” may be one of the most sensually compelling movie songs ever, and the band saved it for the encore, natch. But before that, singer Richard Butler, his brother Tim, and the rest of the band performed a set filled with hits and old faves that rarely wavered or weakened. Instrumentally, the Furs come off more nuanced live, jazzy even, thanks to some killer saxophone parts. The sax, like Butler’s vox, made for very sexy soundscapes.
By the way, though he's pushing 60, Butler is still a total fox. He was always seductive, via his gritty vocal tone and sly stage presence, and he clearly hasn’t lost anything with age. In fact he's more appealing. In white shirt and black tie, wearing black-rimmed glasses, he’s looking more and more like Gary Oldman these days. His dramatic arm movements and embellished inflections were thespian-like, and more importantly, his raspy croon sounds exactly the same. Faves such as “Love My Way,” “Ghost in You,” “Heartbreak Beat” and “Heaven” all sounded as rapturous as ever.
So while Saturday night's show may have been about the past, it wasn’t cheesy as some beyond-their-glory gigs can be. Butler and his band are still all class. Even as time has moved on, the Furs clearly don’t fade.
Set list below.