Four Decades of Adolescence: The Psychedelic Furs @ O2 Forum Kentish Town

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

Gathering together to play a sold-out London show are a band synonymous with American college rock of the 1980s, although they emerged from the UK punk scene in ’77 and grew a post punk fan base across Europe.  The Psychedelic Furs are often best remembered for emotional songs which became the figurative soundtrack of adolescence and the literal soundtrack of movies about adolescence.  With a front man now in his sixties how has the band evolved?  Before the audience get to find that out, what will they make of post punk grand dame Lene Lovich?

Lene Lovich (Belle Piec)

Lene Lovich (Belle Piec)

Always an extrovert and a person so far ahead of fashion, Lene Lovich is dressed in her trademark double buns and braids with flowers and layers and layers red and black garments, a style which didn’t hit the mainstream until she had been sporting it for ten or more years.  The very sight of her bulging, wide eyed gaze and gestures of wonder are enough to fill a person with joy.

Lene Lovich (Belle Piec)

Lene Lovich (Belle Piec)

It is notoriously difficult for women to maintain their place in the music industry over decades, for most their careers peter out when children arrive and they are forced to re-boot or reinvent themselves as a shadowy version of a former ‘sex kitten’ still playing the role of the coquettish flirt.  It doesn’t always make sense to audiences, after all life moves on, and why shouldn’t the stage personae of female performers keep step?  Lovich doesn’t seem to feel the need to correspond to any one’s expectations.  She stands on the stage, she is a sight that is as crazy as a box of frogs, and the audience is delighted.

Lene Lovich (Belle Piec)

Lene Lovich (Belle Piec)

If this was the first time you have seen Lovich on stage you might be tempted to walk away confused about this nutty lady beeping and squawking over the standard ‘80s synth pop, but that would be a failure to acknowledge that her place in pop history and subculture is important.  Her songwriting has traversed the genres of post punk, pop and disco (with Lovich having penned what may be the ultimate disco classic, Supernature, which was recorded by discotheque superpower Cerrone III in 1977.  Lovich’s videos too, had a huge impact on style, sexual politics and the delivery of female vocal performance, her influence can be seen in the work of Kate BushSiouxie Sioux and Amanda Palmer.

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

Here and now on this stage she is part of a five-piece band of mostly stationary figures, with the exception of a particularly lively bass player who bounces about in beaming silver boots giving a little push back with some surf-rock hooks, whilst the guitarist slides the strings with fidget spinner.  It’s weird and wonderful and the audience receive it all with a joyful warmth. The audience for this gig are a loyal crowd, associated with the age of the bands who bring with them an excited energy and almost giddy chatter about how many times and where they last saw The Psychedelic Furs, it becomes very clear that we are about to see band best enjoyed live.

Richard Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Richard Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Arriving on stage one by one each band member is given an uproarious reception from the crowd.  When vocalist Richard Butler arrives on stage you might be forgiven for thinking that women are about to start Beatle screaming and collapsing in fainting spells.  It’s easy to understand why, this is a band with incredible charisma and no pretence.  Their lithe figures are elegantly turned out in pared down military styling, velvet, leather, double breasted buttons and topped with sunglasses, they could teach their contemporaries a thing or two about the effectiveness of restrained styling.

Richard Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Richard Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Being the Singles Tour all of the songs will be well known to fans, although not huge charting hits, Dumb Waiters, Mr Jones and We Love You are all performed with Richard Butler’s unique velvet timbre, delivered with flourishing theatrical gestures.  They confidently choose to insert their most well-known song Pretty In Pink early in the set.  This song, which helped to raise their profile in the ‘80s, will forever be inextricably linked to the John Hughes teen drama of the same name. This song threatened to turn this band into one-hit wonders, but it also helped to define them as a band with a romantic and accessible style.

Richard Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Richard Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

The lyrics of Pretty In Pink and Run and Run are unusual for romantic songs, when Butler writes about women they are three dimensional, spoken of in the third person and not in relation to him, nor are they treated as muses, they are seen as they are flaws and all.  This is an endearing way to describe desire and is a much underused poetic technique.

Tim Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Tim Butler, The Psychedelic Furs (Belle Piec)

Joining Richard Butler is co-founding member and brother, bass player Tim Butler with whom there is an obvious rapport.  The two brothers block out the stage with comfortable ease, ever changing as they dip backwards to drummer Paul Garisto and keyboardist Amanda Kramer, they draw the audience’s attention, generously highlighting band members in turn and providing fresh energy and visual interest.  They are joined on stage tonight by a younger member, Rich Good, on lead guitar who has revised some juicy guitar fills and gives some songs a smart modern update.  Good is also providing backing vocals, matching the soft husk of Butler’s note perfect pitch changes.

Rich Good (guitar), Mars Williams (saxophone) (Belle Piec)

Rich Good (guitar), Mars Williams (saxophone) (Belle Piec)

For all the romanticism of Richard Butler’s writing, this is a tight band performing the very cream of their material. On songs like Love My Way, The Ghost in You and Heaven there is just the feather edge of cynicism in the vocals which ensures that every soulful lament and heartfelt wish is prevented the saccharine coating of so much pop music from the 80’s

Mars Williams (Belle Piec)

Mars Williams (Belle Piec)

Having returned to the band after a hiatus is saxophonist Mars Williams. During his absence the band had been performing live by replacing his integral sax parts with a synthesised replication.  Goodness knows how there wasn’t a fan mutiny?  The 1980s was the era of big melodramatic sax solos, for The Psychedelic Furs the sax underpins most of their numbers and is used to greater effect than just a moment of crazed musical gymnastics.  Williams is vital on tracks like Danger and Don’t Be a Girl. His playing is stirring, bold and purposeful.

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

An encore of President Gas and the drifting Sister Europe draw out the similarities of Richard Butler’s voice to a later David Bowie.  So good were these additional songs that the audience demanded a second encore for a rowdy performance of post punk classic IndiaThe Psychedelic Furs play their hearts out, making the songs as fresh as if they were written this year, but what experience has afforded them is the skill to make a life’s work seem effortless.

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

The Psychedelic Furs at The Forum, London (Belle Piec)

The Psychedelic Furs continue The Singles Tour in the US this year.

Photography by Belle Piec, review by Sarah Sievers at The Forum, Kentish Town with The Psychedelic Furs on Saturday 9th September

 

https://rockshotmagazine.com/26935/live-eddie-vedder-hammersmith-apollo/

 

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