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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rockin’ out with your dad at the House of Blues: The Psychedelic Furs and Happy Mondays attract a grateful, gray-haired crowd

Published: October 15, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

It’s always risky business going to see a band that hasn’t released a hit single since before you were born. Yet when I heard that the Psychedelic Furs and Happy Mondays were playing at the House of Blues, I wasn’t bothered in the least by their vintage status. After all, both groups are much less vintage than The Rolling Stones, and their tickets are also far cheaper. Little did I realize when I decided to go that I’d be rocking out with your dad.

He was a nice guy, really, and he knows how to party considering his age. In fact, he even got a bit too rowdy at one point and a security guard had to ask him to calm down. But how can you blame him? A groundbreaking band he loves had emerged that night from a time machine.

The moment Richard Butler, lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs, wandered on stage, the magic began. The Psychedelic Furs don’t necessarily play the kind of ‘80s synth pop that yanks on your nostalgic heartstrings, and consequently, they stake a very convincing claim to their continued relevance. But it was the mere presence of the two original members, Richard and Tim Butler, that kept the audience enthralled.

The new Furs lineup was impressive, especially the irrepressible saxophonist Mars Williams. The musical parts came together in an organic whole, but the charisma exuded by the Butler brothers instantly set them on another plane. The sound was taut and propulsive, with piercing melodies and haunting motifs.

The first standout was “Heartbeat,” a sax-fueled, quasi-disco, galloping dance number. At this point your dad more or less dispensed with all self-control and busted out some hip shaking moves that weren’t even cool when the song was released in 1984. The lyrics are pure aural imagery, and Butler incanted them with awe, although whether that was a reaction to the overwhelming audience feedback is anyone’s guess.

Some songs, like their biggest hit “Pretty in Pink,” offered sing-along material, while others like “Heaven” were more suited to mellow swaying with lighter in hand. The one constant was the Butlers’ incredible charisma, which suffused their performances with a natural grace. The singer has maintained his vocal prowess through the years, sounding like a post-“Low” David Bowie with a dash of Tom Waits growl. He illustrated his words with motions of his hands, looking like both a painter of air, which makes sense considering that he is also an accomplished visual artist.

It might sound excessive to place so much emphasis on stage presence, but if anything, this concert was a lesson in that secret ingredient that makes the difference between a great musical revival act and a forgettable one. The Happy Mondays, a staple band of the ‘80s Manchester rave scene, unfortunately fell into the latter category in this reviewer’s humble opinion.

With front man Shaun Ryder as the only true original member, it almost felt like a Happy Mondays cover band. From his profanity-laden Ozzy Ozzbourne-esque mumbling tirades and near static performance, it was clear Ryder was not exactly at the top of his game. Perhaps the Manchester-accented monologues were quirky in his heyday, but now he just sounded like a wheezy, crotchety dude.

That’s not to say that the tunes were entirely bad. “Step On,” one of the band’s trademarks, was a cathartic psychedelic pop freakout, and “Loose Fit” was built on a seductively druggy riff and a chorus that inevitably lodged itself in your head. Yet besides Angie Brown, a “backup singer” who became the focal point of the show, most of the musicians looked like they were just going through the motions. Not a terrible performance, but I would have been just as happy listening to their songs through loud speakers at home.

Oh yeah, and Canadian indie poppers, Islands, opened. The band clearly didn’t want to be there, so I clearly don’t want to write about it.

Overall, the Furs stole the show, and proved that a so-called “college rock band” from 25 years ago has the power to attract a new generation of student music connoisseurs.

Your dad seemed to appreciate this, but he reminded us that he saw them in the ‘80s in the East Village at a venue that no longer exists. Then he accidentally spilled his beer on the floor and the staff asked him to move out the way. We took his place, grinning silently.