“I hope we won’t be the only ones here not on psychedelics,” said the person sitting next to me.
Right away, it instead became clear that we had entered a world of moms and dads reliving The Psychedelic Furs’ glory years along with their own. On March 13, The Furs performed at the State Theater of Ithaca as part of their “Made of Rain” tour, celebrating their first new release in 29 years. The Furs’ energy, connection and rhythm succeeded in transporting the audience back to the 1980s as they rejuvenated classic hits and performed songs from their new album.
The show opened with Royston Langdon, a solo performer who sported a cowboy hat, shades and a rich acoustic guitar. “Everything is one big mound of music and love,” Langdon said to the audience, which mirrored the effect of his smooth voice and his playing style of heavy downstroke strumming and fingerstyle guitar. Langdon did not pull any punches with his provocative and honest lyrics: his song, “Nazi Girlfriend,” brought confused laughter out of the audience’s open mouths.
The moms in the crowd enjoyed Langdon’s rich, rolling voice and on-stage charisma, but his choice to step away from the microphone halfway through his set left his vocal effects wanting and audience members straining to hear the lyrics over the amplified guitar. Despite his shortcomings, however, I found Langdon to be the perfect opener for the Furs, as his unexpected persona built anticipation for the main act. He definitely had me laughing with his originals, and he pulled out a crowd-pleaser with his cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”
After Langdon’s set, a heavy synth changed the show’s tone from Langdon’s acoustic guitar to the Furs’ classic 80s sound. One might expect the post-punk band to be rusty or low-energy in their old age, but even though their outfits and sound came straight from the 80s, each of the members carried timeless personality and energy onto the stage. A wave of accidental flash photos from fans who didn’t know how to use their phones dated the audience, as Richard Butler, the lead vocalist and frontman of the band, danced his way into the center. Butler rocked his signature 80s dance moves with the flair of a young man — only his floppy, McCartney-esque hair aged him.
Halfway through the set, the Furs treated the audience to some of their most well-known songs. Even to someone unfamiliar with their discography, it was clear which songs were old hits when fans began to stand up and dance despite signs explicitly prohibiting both. Their performance of 1981 hit “Pretty in Pink” took sound and energy straight from the 80s, and Butler took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to really get into the 1982 fan–favorite “Love My Way.”
The band’s incredibly tight rhythm characterized their performance, and the thumping beat from the drums and bass reverberated through the audience. The drummer completely captivated the audience’s focus with his tight and dynamic playing; the other instrumentalists moved around and bounced off of one another’s energy. Butler’s classic and recognizable voice jumps out from the band’s decades-old recordings, and his voice grew into a character of its own through the singer’s affect and dancing.
Although the riffs and progressions felt more expected and less experimental in the band’s older songs, the band also seemed completely at ease, having fun with their hits. Their connection fully shined and captivated the audience when the singer, guitarist and bassist played with their arms around one another.
Certainly, I would have enjoyed the concert more if we had been standing and dancing the entire time, but the space in the State Theater doesn’t allow for the high-energy audience experience that the Psychedelic Furs demand. The Furs are not a band to sit and passively enjoy, like the elderly couple to our left who quietly sipped their open cups of beer, watching like they would an opera. During the encore, we experienced a slice of the energy I imagine the Furs would have received in the 80s, with a standing and cheering crowd. Guitarist Rich Good threw his guitar pick into the crowd after the band closed out, another reminder of the energy and reception of the Furs’ glory days.
Unlike many other bands from the 70s and 80s with decades-lasting drama of love, hatred, break-ups and reunions, The Psychedelic Furs seemed to be genuinely present and enjoying themselves onstage. They can still fill a theater with cheering fans and captivate new listeners, even 45 years after their creation. The Furs are definitely a band that any fan needs to see live — their energy, rhythm and sound cannot be truly captured in their records.
Kiki Plowe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].