Photo : Jeremy Hinks
In 1985, I first heard this wild dark saxophone-laden new wave rock with a grinding voice singing “Pretty In Pink”, at a coming of age moment in life. That was when I first introduced to “The Psychedelic Furs”. I began listening to them on and off in this new world of music, as “New Wave” was taking over my soul while I was entering 7th grade.
In 1986, I moved to a tiny cow town in Southern Utah (population 1100). With no interest in “redneck” music or activity, I found the local misfit bunch of kids sharing similar interests. There were six kids in this crew, arty, new wave, and queer. I spent most of my time hanging out with them for the short time I was down there. They taught me to LOVE Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Divine, Husker Du, Book of Love, Dead Kennedys, and The Psychedelic Furs. I remember fondly in between “Country” and “Metal” songs at church dances, “There’s a HEARTBREAK BEAT!!!! AND IT FEELS LIKE LOVE”.
A few months later I moved to Salt Lake City, where I thought I was getting my head into what was great music when I came to know a wonderful bisexual Hispanic punk rock chick, her boyfriend, also a bisexual Hispanic glam “Rockabilly” dude, and his gay boyfriend Gary, who was a bodybuilding punk rocker with a 12” Mohawk. These three were several years older than me and were all about teaching me what real music was. They all three swore by this Los Angeles Punk Rockabilly band “X”. With such cool people letting me hear tapes of all of these wonderful bands, my education into punk and the new wave was well underway. In short, if you were a queer kid growing up in the ’80s, you listened to The Psychedelic Furs, if you got into the fringe of it, you got into “X”.
Being a lifelong fan of both bands “X” and The Psychedelic Furs, I have seen them both many times over the years. I even worked on a tour with The Psychedelic Furs in 2001 with my 2nd fave band sharing the stage. I am unable to count how many shows I have seen of either band. BUT, suffice it to say, a bunch of queer kids got me into them, and how could I go wrong with either?
When The Psychedelic Furs announced a tour with “X” it just seemed like a no-brainer, this was the music that defined my coming of age years, and the anticipation leading up to this show was pretty intense.
The Psychedelic Furs and X
Artist: The Psychedelic Furs
Supporting : X
Date: August 4, 2022
Venue: Red Butte Gardens, Salt Lake City
Tour: Made of Rain
I walked into a time warp, sort of. I walked right up to the stage to shoot “X” when I remember seeing them first at the Hollywood Bowl in 1993, they were cranking out the great numbers of split vocals between John Doe and Exene Cervenka, the classics were just as good as when I heard them first in 1987. It all just came full circle when I asked for a smile from guitarist Billy Zoom, and a thumbs up from drummer D.J. Bonebrake. Yeah, I wonder how my friends from ’87 would feel right now just a couple of feet away from the legends. This time everyone was sitting on a lawn, and John Doe pointed out on stage right the “Geriatric mosh pit”. Yeah, we are getting up there in age I guess. Everyone was dancing, and singing along to one of my faves, “I MUST NOT THINK BAD THOUGHTS”. Rockabilly is a beloved style of music, and “X” have outlived so many bands, still playing 40-plus years since they began in Los Angeles in 1977.
What made this even more of a full circle moment, was when I was walking away from the stage after shooting “X”, one of the gay misfit kids from 1987 was there and he came and said hello. I thanked him again for getting me into The Psychedelic Furs (great to see you Michael).
The Psychedelic Furs are one of those bands that never went away, they toured, made side project albums, and toured again. From the 80s wearing lots of leather and big hair to one show the vocalist Richard Butler was just wearing a t-shirt, sweat pants, and combat boots, it all just kind of blurs into whatever they want to do.
On this tour, they had managed to bring their iconic horn player Mars Williams. He is a tiny guy, and walked out on stage, decked out in knee-high leather boots, a leather jacket, and playing saxophone that was almost as big as him. Richard Butler was more in the glam mode this tour, he was dressed to the nines, almost as if he would be giving the late David Bowie a run for his money, but his attire was also very much Prince-esque, “Purple Rain” era. Butler himself has been described as Lou Reed mixed with David Bowie, and tonight, he landed the Bowie side of things. His stage presence is almost equal to Bowie, and I can say that after 30-plus times seeing him perform.
They opened with some classics “I Wanna Sleep With You” from 1981, then “Mr. Jones” from 1980 then from the new album “You’ll Be Mine”, it didn’t sound like a “mix” of times for them, just current.
Tim Butler is the original bassist and younger brother of the vocalist and has been in since they began in 1977, new to the stage, for the last 12 years or so, Amanda Curran on keyboards boasting some of the best bands on her resume, it was again an honor to see her with them again.
They cranked out some of the earlier grittier hits “Dumb Waiters” and “Imitation of Christ” all mixed in with the new album tracks, “Wrong Train”. There was a majestic purple haze over everything on stage, probably to enhance the “Prince” motif of the outfit Richard Butler was wearing.
By the time they played “Pretty In Pink” and “The Ghost in You” (Both must play classics) the entire amphitheater was bobbing up and down, I could feel the thumping of everyone’s feet in unison. I have never experienced something like this at an outdoor show.
I found myself trying to analyze his lyrics again, something I have done for my entire life with these guys. The words to their songs are so layered, and can lay out several different meanings, a couple of them, I think I have nailed it, a couple other ones, still elude me as to their meanings. They are that enigmatic, just keep listening, 30+ years on.
A moment like this makes me feel like it was 1989 again, Richard Butler sounded as good as ever, while reintegrating the original gritty “Jazz” feel back into the music that they abandoned after the overly pop disaster album “Midnight To Midnight”. Coming back to it now, we can all say that was some good music after all.
Richard Butler being the showman with “The Swagger of Mick Jagger” managed to keep everyone captivated as he tied up the first part of the set with “Heaven”.
For an encore, they brought back into the set “Heartbreak Beat” historically the most pop song they ever released, and though begrudgingly at first, now it is a staple of the live sets, and sounds so much better now than when they performed it on the Joan Rivers show all those years ago.
Closing the evening out with India, everyone would agree, that the mix of hits, fun tracks, and the new songs all coming together made it a great evening.
With a catalog as large as theirs, and performing for now 40 plus years, you can rest assured it will be a great night with Psychedelic Furs. And, grab an “X” show while you’re at it.
Special Thanks to all those great queer kids who kept me on the “Straight and Narrow” path to such great music, thanks for all those great times.