Concert review: Retro rock rules the Pageant with the Psychedelic Furs and the Lemonheads, Friday, October 12
As the Lemonheads took the stage, the crowd was still surprisingly sparse, with only the floor and table seating areas moderately full and the balcony closed. And something, or rather someone, was starkly absent.
The Lemonheads had initially billed their St. Louis stop, the first on their tour, as including bassist Juliana Hatfield. Apparently “unforeseen circumstances” led to her canceling her dates with the band — a notice she tweeted on October 2. Though the band and venue removed her name from digital mentions of the show, it seemed most fans had not received this information in advance, as a wave of disappointment clearly swept across the crowd.
Lead singer Evan Dando looked a bit worn, keeping his head mostly down and sporting an oversized plaid flannel shirt and khakis plucked straight out of 1989. The band’s set of broody alt-rock seemed a bit of a downer, really. Even the hit, “It’s a Shame About Ray,” elicited little enthusiasm from the crowd, save for one very excited fan in the front of the floor. Admittedly, I have never been a big fan, and I found them to be an odd pairing for the richer, more upbeat, post-punk sound of the Psychedelic Furs.
The Pageant’s main floor filled up quickly as the Furs finally took the stage, the majority of the crowd (not surprisingly) over 40, with many gray heads present. At 56, lead singer Richard Butler has aged fairly well. Though he sports shorter hair and a few more wrinkles, his gruff yet melodic voice seems to have changed little in more than 30 years. Love it or hate it (I personally love it), his vocals are so unmistakably his own and so iconic of his era.
Wearing a basic black suit and thick-rimmed glasses, he grinned widely as he began crooning the opening notes of “Only You and I,” a heavier and darker cut from the band’s 1982 classic “Forever Now.” A treat for die-hard fans, the Furs played a vast majority of tunes from that seminal album, including “Love My Way” (featuring the first of many great solos by saxophonist extraordinaire Mars Williams), “Run and Run,” “Danger,” “No Easy Street” and “President Gas.”
Ever present at Richard’s side was his bassist brother, Tim Butler, and guitarist Rich Good. Drummer Paul Garisto and keyboardist Amanda Kramer subtly did their thing in the background as Williams worked the crowd with his sax.
Just as at the band’s last St. Louis show over a year ago, they were also joined mid-set by St. Louis guitar star Richard Fortus (formerly of local bands the Eyes/Pale Divine, Richard and Tim Butler’s post-Furs band Love Spit Love and Guns n’ Roses), who shredded on heavy jam “Mr. Jones,” then stayed on stage for the majority of the show.
Butler looked like a giddy child, jumping up and down between songs and gesturing theatrically to his own lyrics. He showed his softer side on mellow favorites like “Ghost in You,” “Heaven” and “Heartbreak Beat.” I’ve always found the Furs’ versatility to be one of their most amazing qualities. They so easily transition from loud, punk-driven anthems to sweet rock ballads and perform both to perfection.
Though the band’s biggest mainstream hit, “Pretty in Pink,” brought droves of fans to the dance floor, it felt a tad lackluster in comparison to the other deeper material the Furs took on.
The encore was a true treat, with the much anticipated and politically charged “President Gas” followed by “India,” a raw and heavy track from the band’s self-titled 1980 studio debut, during which Butler encouraged Williams to take his sax solo up higher and higher, culminating in a piercing wail.
The show was more than satisfying and the Furs proved that they aren’t simply some has-been ’80s band phoning it in on tired old hits. Quite the contrary, the Butler brothers and company provided fresh and fierce renditions of some of the best rock songs of the post-punk era. Mostly, they seemed to be having a great time doing it — and the fans responded in kind.
The energy and musicianship they bring to their seemingly timeless body of work makes this fan yearn for a new Furs album. Who knows — maybe after all the touring they will get back in the studio and deliver. I hope so; but until then, I’ll “let it stay forever now.”