The Psychedelic Furs bring Heaven back to the Commodore

Photo by Peter Ruttan
Photo by Peter Ruttan

The Psychedelic Furs @ The Commodore Ballroom 19/7/17

Richard Butler has brought his raspy voice and the rest of The Psychedelic Furs repeatedly to the Commodore over the last 37 years, and fans continue to sell out the venue to bop along with their New Wave-inspired pop-rock classics. Considering the band only cracked the Billboard Top 20 once, hasn’t released a studio album since 1991, and played the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam less than three years ago, it is amazing to witness the draw the band continues to possess.

The 6-piece ensemble took the stage to 1981’s “Dumb Waiters”, with Butler carrying his nearly-constant smile and his animated hands throughout virtually the entire show. By the time the rhythm of their biggest dance hit “Heartbeat” found the audience, the room was aligned in a calf-raising groove supplied by bassist (and brother) Tim Butler and drummer Paul Garisto. Following up with the sweet and romantic “The Ghost In You” driven by Amanda Kramer’s top hat and pigtails on keyboards, the aging crowd got into singalong mode and Richard Butler’s smile was now beaming. Notable also was Rich Good’s guitar on the same track and on 1984’s other hit “Heaven”; the Furs were never a particularly guitar-driven band, but Good’s efforts on Ghost and others showed his ability to both fill and drive in close quarters. 

The middle section of the show slowed down a bit, with less-popular songs pleasing the hardcore attendees but perhaps losing interest from some of the more casual fans. Butler kept bouncing and even grabbed a megaphone during “Believe” from his days with Love Spit Love to keep the spirit up, but a quick glance around the room showed a few in the audience using this time to check their phones. That all stopped when the opening chords of “Love My Way” brought everyone back thumping on the sprung dance floor, singing along to repeated strains of “Ahhhh ooooo…”. 

The vibe continued as Mars Williams put down his saxophone and picked up a clarinet for a rousing intro to “Alice’s House” that clearly pleased the faithful, and this is where a venue like the Commodore can really shine. While the similarly-sized Hard Rock Casino show in 2014 had the benefit of a more acoustically superior space, Williams’ efforts translate better just millimeters from the intimate throng. 

But the star of the night was always going to be Richard Butler. With his back to the audience, shaking his hips in front of the drums and raising his arms in the air during the intro to “All That Money Wants”, it was easy to imagine it was the 80’s again and forget that the singer is 61. Although between-song banter was kept to a minimum and there was an occasional cracked note from an otherwise ominous and unique voice, Butler beamed or snarled to the crowd for the entirety of the show.

The main set closer was no surprise, with the strains of Mars Williams’ sax flowing through “Pretty In Pink”. A quick break, and then the group rejoined for their biggest charting hit, 1987’s “Heartbreak Beat” which had every person in attendance joining for every word of the chorus. As they’ve done recently, the band closed with “President Gas”, a political anthem warning of tyranny and propaganda that is perhaps even more relevant in 2017 than it was when it was released 35 years ago.

Unfortunately for some, the band chose not to include previous Furs’ staples such as “Until She Comes” and “India” this time. But they played enough gems to send their loyal and aging fans home happy again.

While chatting was light for the headliners, Robyn Hitchcock more than made up for it during his stint as the evening’s openers. Unfortunately, while his banter between songs was generally amusing, a poor sound mix and a technical problem with his acoustic guitar cable made it difficult for the crowd to get into the show.