Writer Fred Bruce reviews the new-wave icons as they take on Glasgow.
Despite not releasing a studio record in nearly three decades, The Psychedelic Furs have been consistently touring for the majority of the new millennium. While the London-borne new wave band has seen numerous iterations since first appearing on the scene at the dawn of the 1980s, brothers Richard and Tim Butler have remained the group’s cornerstone throughout its tumultuous history.
The line-up coming into Tuesday night is arguably one of its strongest, including esteemed saxophonist Mars Williams, as well as the band’s first female member, in keyboardist Amanda Kramer. Awaiting the Furs’ first performance north of the border in two years is a decisively older crowd, with a handful of teenagers who fell in love with Call Me By Your Name’s feature of Love My Way peppered in for good measure.
First up, however, comes the support act in the form of Wendy James, of legendary Transvision Vamp fame (Baby I Don’t Care, I Want Your Love), accompanied by a handful of session musicians. Performing an assortment of solo material with a few iconic Vamp tunes spliced between, James puts on a surprisingly strong show. Where time has diminished her vocals somewhat, the same cannot be said of her stage presence nor charisma and, alongside contagious energy and passion from her backing band, the act sets the O2 Academy ablaze by the end of the 12 song set.
Half an hour passes after James and company’s triumphant exit before the lights dim and a haunting, synth-backed vocal chorus emanates around the arena. Eventually, through the heavy blue-tinged smoke, The Psychedelic Furs make their entrance. Donning his traditional black shades, bassist Tim Butler is first to emerge – to raucous adoration from the Glasgow crowd – quickly followed by his bandmates, minus leader Richard. After a few moments of celebration, the band open with the frenzied notes of Dumb Waiters as Butler finally marches onstage, grabbing the microphone with a bow. After a tremendous opening, the band segues cleanly into the fast rocker Mr Jones, as both Butlers turn the energy up and seem genuinely ecstatic to be performing. Rich Good on lead guitar appears more restrained, maintaining an overpoweringly cool aura on the far left of the stage for most of the set. Fan-favourite Love My Way comes next and, while Richard’s vocals seem to struggle somewhat, any mishaps are drowned out by several thousand fans singing in unison.
The gig is unabashedly a greatest hits performance – Pretty in Pink, Heartbreak Beat, The Ghost in You and Heaven all show up throughout the concert, genuinely sounding as good, and in some cases better, than their studio counterparts. The sleazy, almost eerie-sounding Sister Europe falls into the latter category, with Butler’s smoky vocals enveloping the audience in a way that is testament to the Furs’ prowess. Special note must also be given to the quality of Mars Williams’ saxophone, often taking centre stage on cuts like the aforementioned Pretty in Pink.
There are a few surprises and deep-cuts thrown in to let the audience breathe, but even they are played to near-perfection. The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll is introduced as one of the band’s first new songs in decades. Though not as immediately gripping as much of the Furs’ discography, it is a solid track given the time spent away from the studio. Sleep Comes Down appears as the penultimate song of the main set, seeing Richard hushing the audience as his voice, just above a whisper, recites the eponymous chorus.Returning to the stage for a triumphant rendition of the lengthy India from their self-titled debut, The Psychedelic Furs bid a final goodbye to the Glasgow audience and the lights rise up on the still buzzing O2 Academy. With a new album reportedly arriving some time next year, the Butlers and Co. proved tonight that none of their presence nor talent on stage have faded with time – and hopefully the same will be said in the studio.