Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Psychedelic Furs at the Highline Ballroom

Richard Butler
Vocalist Richard Butler and his brother, bassist Tim Butler, formed the Psychedelic Furs in their native England as the punk scene was beginning to take off in 1977. The band initially was called RKO, then Radio. The band later performed as both the Europeans and the Psychedelic Furs before permanently settling on the latter name. Although the Furs had some chart success in England, the band remained a cult band in America until film director John Hughes used their song "Pretty in Pink" for his movie of the same name in 1986. The Furs went on hiatus in 1991, and the Butler brothers formed a new band called Love Spit Love with guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer. Love Spit Love evolved back into the Psychedelic Furs in 2000. The current Psychedelic Furs touring line-up consists of the Butler brothers, guitarist Rich Good, saxophonist Mars Williams, keyboardist Amanda Kramer and drummer Paul Garisto.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, the Psychedelic Furs performed 18 songs that spanned the band's career, from Butler's early, cathartic and austere art-school poetry in motion to the later new wave pop tunes and even to an as-yet-unrecorded song. The band has not recorded a new album since its initial split in 1991, but "Little Miss World," which has been in the band's live set since 2012, hints at the possibility of forthcoming new music. Four decades in, the Furs maintained an intriguing and charming sound. Richard Butler's hoarse lower-register talky-style of crooning, the inclusion of bright saxophone riffs in nearly every song, and the poetic avoidance of catchy choruses offered depth to the uptempo rhythms and melodies. What changed was that the matured performance was tamer than ever, a clean middle-of-the-road rock delivery that was no longer driven by a aggressive, punk desperation. Dressed in large glasses, a dark three-piece suit, a white uncuffed shirt and a dark tie, the tall and thin Richard Butler appeared to be a class act, often bowing deeply to audience applause. In short time, he removed his jacket and loosened his tie, grinned widely to his cheering fans and started working the audience into a mellow spell. Although in their time "Pretty in Pink" and "Heartbreak Beat" were better selling songs, the audience seemed to respond more strongly to "The Ghost in You" and "Love My Way." The catalogue was solid, the performance was exuberant, but hopefully the Butler brothers will be inspired to write and record a new set of music or risk becoming an "oldies" band.

The Psychedelic Furs perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on January 18. In the meantime, visit the band at