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Pop Music Review : Psychedelic Furs' Show Fails To Fly

September 03, 1987|DUNCAN STRAUSS

More and more nowadays, when the Psychedelic Furs make an album or perform a concert it ends up sounding like a statement issued from rock's Department of Redundancy Department.

The English band's show Tuesday at the Pacific Amphitheatre continued this pattern, though there's no truth to the rumor that the performance consisted of one song that ran about 90 minutes. It just seemed that way.

Actually, that a Psychedelic Furs concert sauntered through Dullsville won't shock anyone who has followed the group since 1980, when the band (then a sextet) released its debut album and embarked on its first U.S. tour.

The shows that year and the next were wildly uneven and, sometimes, boring. But in a smoky club setting, as its graceful drones straddled the sonic regions between Roxy Music and the Velvet Underground, the band came across as sexy, mysterious and alluring.

Spearheaded by singer Richard Butler, a rail-thin Bowie-esque figure, the Psychedlic Furs reflected enormous potential. They seemed to be on to something, the great white post-punk hope.

Too bad the band backed out on the deal, significantly switching musical gears after the second album. Butler later admitted, "I wanted us to have radio air play. I wanted as many people to find out about the band as possible." (Read: We wanted to sell more records and concert tickets.)

The outfit on stage Tuesday--the core trio of Butler, his bassist brother Tim and guitarist John Ashton, plus four sidemen--is now quite a commercially successful rock band--and an artistic underachiever. Still, if the group is going to cash in its creative chips and put seven guys on stage, you would figure it would at least keep things interesting, vary the attack, splash the music with lots of instrumental color.

Wrong on all counts. Nearly all the songs were dirge-like, propelled by the same beat, minimally fleshed out by the same limited textures and topped by Butler's same anguished warbling. (His vocals often sound like someone doing a bad impression of Katherine Hepburn.)

Mars Williams' honking sax runs and Ashton's fluid, soaring guitar lines occasionally helped enliven the proceedings but didn't come close to offsetting the overall lack of dynamics. Richard Butler has lots of charisma but apparently doesn't know how to capitalize on it to galvanize either the band or the audience.

His and the other musicians' performances smoldered throughout the evening but failed to ignite. The Furs never flew.

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