Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs has one of most distinctive voices in rock. Equal parts David Bowie and Johnny Rotten, Butler's jagged croon can convey the intensities involved with love and regret with the phrasing of a single syllable.
Amazingly, after nearly four decades rasping out hits such as "Pretty in Pink" and "Love My Way," Butler sounds as strong as ever.
The evidence at last night's show at the House of Blues was as abundant as it was diverse. Spanning the band's entire catalogue, Butler and his bandmates thrilled a good sized crowd who had come out to relive a few high school memories.
Yet for all the adulation heaped upon the expected fare, it was the deep cuts and a couple of new songs that really made the evening special.
After opening with "Highwire Days," "Heartbeat" and "The Ghost in You," the Furs went back to their self-titled debut from 1980 and performed blistering versions of "Wedding Song," "Soap Commercial" and "Pulse." To its credit, the crowd gave these songs their due, even though the murky intensity of this portion of the show was a far cry from the band's most popular material.
Fans didn't have to wait too long before "Love My Way" and "Heaven" had the crowd swooning and singing along. Not only were these songs legitimate hits, they defy easy classification as simply radio friendly, inconsequential fodder. Indeed, when Butler engaged the crowd to sing with him on "Heaven," it's doubtful that most in attendance understood the subversive nature of a line like "There's too many kings wanna hold you down."
The two relatively new songs were equally exceptional. "Little Miss World" and "Wrong Train" sounded like great lost outtakes from such standout albums as Talk Talk Talk and Forever Now. Seeing the 57-year-old Butler bounce and pantomime across the stage brought even more weight to songs that no one in the crowd could have possibly been familiar with.
By the time the Furs ended the evening with an encore of "Pretty in Pink" and "Sleep Comes Down," it was like an old friend begrudgingly saying goodbye at a crowded airport. Even with only two original members (Richard Butler and his brother Tim on bass), the Psychedelic Furs are still a fascinatingly unique entry in the rock and roll spectrum.
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Encompassing a fatalistic romanticism while somehow producing pop hits, the Furs straddle a beautiful line between contemplation and carelessness, a place where pop music can matter, a place where geniuses and morons can claim a kinship in a song about getting dumped by a pretty girl.
Richard Butler and this collection of Psychedelic Furs still matter. Their music resonates because Butler demands that it does. He coaxes every ounce of meaning out of every single song, out of every single syllable. His energy engrosses an audience, makes them one with him and his cathartic, art school poetry.
I came away from this show definite in that what I heard was great, assured that what the Psychedelic Furs did this evening was something that everyone needed to hear, something any music lover needed to experience firsthand.