The Psychedelic Furs and Lene Lovich Band ride a wave of 80’s nostalgia in North London.
The passing of time seemed irrelevant as the O2 Forum, Kentish Town hosted a sell-out crowd that lapped up every minute of what these iconic artists had to offer.
The early 80s New Wave era successfully bridged the gap between punks gobbing on audiences and new romantics blinding them with sparkling diamante jackets. One of the most significant bands of the time were the Psychedelic Furs. The Furs might have only troubled the top 20 once (‘Pretty In Pink’ from the film soundtrack of the same name reached number 18 in 1986, though on release in 1981 it reached only 43), but their sound influenced scores of artists that followed – listen to ‘Sister Europe’ and try not to think about Nirvana. The band went on hiatus in 1991, reforming ten years later and although the Mk II version of The Psychedelic Furs hasn’t released any new studio albums, they continue to tour to packed audiences. Last week, I was lucky enough to catch ‘The Singles Tour’ at a sold out O2 Forum in Kentish Town. This is a tour does what it says on the tin. There are no obscure album tracks to appease the picky mega fan here, just ninety minutes of bangers.
But before the Furs arrived, we had tasty hors d’oeuvres in the form of Lene Lovich – another 80s icon who influenced the likes of Toni Basil, PJ Harvey and Björk. Lovich emerged initially to a small crowd – the headliners faithful evidently preferring to prop up the Bull & Gate next door. She played the Tommy James and the Shondells song ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (later covered by another 80s princess, Tiffany) early in the set and it seemed strangely appropriate. It didn’t stay that way though. The crowd arrived in droves and by the end it was absolutely rammed. If Lovich is paid by the extreme hand gesture and wide eyed stare, she must be doing very well indeed – she certainly did make an arresting sight and was a photographer’s dream. ‘Lucky Number’, the song everyone remembers was confidently played mid-set and once it was time to go: ‘The Psychedelic Furs are waiting, so we’d better hurry up’, she was met with cries of ‘No!’ from those wanting to extract every drop of the New Wave vibe.
Except the Psychedelic Furs were waiting and in truth, so were the crowd. Only 40% of the original line up (front man Richard Butler and his brother, bassist Tim) remain intact, but this detracted nothing from the quality and energy of the performance. They opened with Dumb Waiters from the 1981 ‘Talk Talk Talk’ album. Richard and Tim drew much of the attention, not only for the obvious fact that they formed the band, but because they clearly retain a close rapport and spent much of the time sharing the same parts of the stage. Behind the brothers are drummer Paul Garisto and keys player Amanda Kramer, both veterans from the first instalment of the band and both formidable musicians who have an impressive CV of session and touring work – most notably with Iggy Pop (Garisto) and 10,000 Maniacs (Kramer). It’s no surprise that they deliver an epic backdrop to the sound. Stage right is guitarist Rich Good. A comparative newbie, Good joined the Furs in 2009. His playing is incisive and tight. There’s nothing flashy here, but his licks and flicks give the band a contemporary bite. Aside from the brothers Butler though, most eyes are drawn to saxophonist Mars Williams; another stalwart from Mk I whose sax parts practically define the Furs’ sound. Williams has big lungs for a small man – and they’re needed, not only to blast the instrument but to keep him whizzing about the stage as he does so.
The songs played tonight might not be that well known to passers-by, but to the faithful wedged into the Forum they were all anthems deserving of maximum respect. These people know their stuff; whilst the ‘No Crowd Surfing’ signs were unnecessary for an audience of a certain age, it did feel good being surrounded by a sell-out of like-minded individuals – people who don’t shout their way through songs or watch them through a 4.7” display held aloft. Like Lovich, the band gave away their signature song early – ‘Pretty In Pink’ being played fourth – but the intensity of the performance remained throughout the nineteen song set.
After two encores, ‘Sister Europe’ and ‘President Gas’ (this latter song appearing on the 1982 album ‘Forever Now’ was a thinly veiled attack on then US President Ronald Reagan, though it’s never seemed more prescient than now) the crowd called for more. The Psychedelic Furs duly obliged, returning to close the show with a rowdy version of ‘India’, which left Rich Good’s chorus laden guitar ringing in our ears and around our heads.
Andy Warhol called The Psychedelic Furs ‘The greatest band in the world’ and who am I to argue. Richard Butler might be sixty-one years old but based on the vitality and energy that he and his band displayed tonight I wouldn’t count on the Furs bowing out anytime soon. The ‘Singles Tour’ continues in the United States through September and October.