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Photo by Julie Hirsch
The Psychedelic Furs play Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on May 18, 2023.
In true fashion, and based on their many, welcomed visits to the local area in recent years, legendary British post-punk outfit, Psychedelic Furs, did not disappoint on Thursday night at Clearwater’s Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre. Still on the road in support of a superb 2020 studio album Made of Rain
, the now five-piece outfit delivered a smartly-paced, 90-minute set that touched on a variety of selections from the group’s wide array of career highlights and seemed to please all those in attendance.
The band wasted no time in getting its set kicked off in high gear. After taking the stage, the current incarnation of the group, including founding member and bassist Tim Butler and recently acquired, dynamic session drummer Zack Alford, immediately lunged into the energized rocker “Run and Run” from the band’s 1982 album Forever Now
. In no time, lead singer and focal point Richard Butler sauntered to his spot at the center of the stage and began to weave his distinctive, gravelly, sneering vocals to the mix.
Clad in black blazer and black baggy slacks, Butler, just a few weeks shy of reaching his 67th birthday, appeared youthful, spirited, and spry. Sporting a tousled mop of hair upon his head and a pair of shades, Butler looked great and sounded even better. His undeniable style shone through, not only through his undeniably identifiable sneer, but through his chic fashion sense, and a natural ability to entertain and toy with an audience.
Whether dancing, crouching, posing, singing directly to front row audience members, or just looking cool, Butler is a rare breed; he’s as comfortable and natural in his role as a striking, attention-seeking frontman as he is singing and crooning pop songs and new wave dancefloor classics. Speaking of those, he and the Furs served up its undeniable crown jewel, another selection from 1982, “Love My Way,” as its second number of the night. Without hesitation, most of the Gen X age group members in their seats quickly rose to dance and recalled the days of growing up in the 1980s and listening to the Furs in their bedrooms and in new wave clubs.
Missing ace sax player Mars Williams (who was unfortunately diagnosed with a rare cancer at the end of 2022)
took a noticeable toll on the group’s unique sound. Williams’ contributions to the band’s music have helped punctuate its live sound for many years. To compensate, the 2023 version of the Furs includes another guitarist, alongside lead axe man Rich Good, which only helped to provide a harder rock edge to the night’s performances.
The raw, jagged, double-guitar onslaught that fueled an outstanding reading of “Mr. Jones” perfectly demonstrated the more aggressive side the group unleashed at times throughout the night. The band was, however, able to seamlessly transition to the lighter, alt-rock groove of 1989’s “House” in an instant, and marvelously showed off a totally different side of their musical arsenal. With Butler’s vocals never faltering or ceasing to amaze, he was able to lead the Furs through a career retrospective that provided as many bonafide classics as deep album cuts which undoubtedly pleased every fan, from the casual to the diehard, crammed into the cozy theater.
Standards like “Heaven,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “Heartbreak Beat” saw light towards the tail-end of the night alongside surprises like a fantastic rendition of Roxy Music’s 1973 single “Pyjamarama” and an earth-shattering version of “India” from the band’s fantastic 1980 debut album to close the show.
Active since the late-1970s and vital since the dawning of the ‘80s, this wonderful performance only proved that Psychedelic Furs still have a lot of life left and that, in a live setting, it is still one of the forerunners of the band's remaining 1980s contemporaries when it comes to performance skills and panache.
Opening the show in totally nondescript style was lead singer and chief songwriter of veteran Boston-based indie rock outfit The Lemonheads, Evan Dando. Taking the stage in little fanfare and dressed in jeans, work boots, and long-sleeved shirt, Dando delivered a solo, acoustic set that included versions of some of his band’s best known 1990s tracks like “Into Your Arms” and “It’s a Shame About Ray” along with a smattering of other album tracks. His quiet set was sadly almost totally drowned out by the nonstop chatter of those disengaged audience members towards the back of the venue but, nonetheless, drew plenty of cheers and accolades from fans in the know who cheered him on throughout his 40-minute opening slot.