From all outside appearances, it would seem that the Psychedelic Furs have spent the past decade living in the past.
Since the seminal new wave English band re-formed in 2001 after a 10-year hiatus, it has toured the world extensively. But besides a new studio track featured on the live reunion record “Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live,” the group has relied on its seven-album back catalog — their last full studio album was 1991’s “World Outside,” although frontman Richard Butler did release a self-titled solo album in 2006. Most recently, the band just completed a U.S. and European tour during which it played its second album, 1981’s “Talk Talk Talk,” in its entirety each night.
But appearances can be deceiving. The current lineup of the band — Richard Butler, his brother Tim Butler on bass, guitarist Rich Good, saxophonist Mars Williams, keyboardist Amanda Kramer and drummer Paul Garisto — has been working on instrumental tracks between tours.
For Gazette music writer Brian McElhiney's review of this show, click here.
“We’re waiting on Richard working on lyrics,” Tim Butler said from his home in Kentucky, about a week before heading out on a mini-tour of the Northeast. “We are planning on doing a new album, but we’re doing it on our own terms. There’s no hurry. We’re not going to come out with anything to compete with Lady Gaga, especially now. We just want stuff that we’re happy with, then get it out, rather than rush it and get substandard stuff to our ears. It’s been a while since the last album, so we just want to make sure it’s good enough for our terms.”
Unfortunately for fans, that means the new songs aren’t quite ready to be played live yet, so don’t expect any when the band hits The Egg on Saturday night. The show closes out the short Northeast run for the band, a prelude to a longer summer tour of their native England.
The band is keeping things interesting this time out by tackling rare tunes alongside hits such as “Pretty in Pink” (the inspiration for the 1986 film of the same name) and “Heartbreak Beat.”
“This is basically a show that has songs we haven’t played for a while, plus the ones that everybody wants to hear — we’d have a riot on our hands if we didn’t do those,” Tim said. “[We’re doing] ‘Book of Days’ and ‘Imitation of Christ’ off of the first album, and I’m sure there will be other ones when we get into rehearsal.”
The “Talk Talk Talk” tour is still fresh in the band members’ minds, and has helped to inform more aggressive set lists and playing in recent shows. The album has long been considered a fan favorite, featuring the original version of “Pretty in Pink,” “Into You Like a Train” and other classic songs, and features a rawer sound than the band’s late ’80s recordings.
“We’d forgotten what a sort of aggressive album that was,” Tim said. “We’ve done certain songs over the years, but never the whole thing, and it’s quite a daunting album to play for people our age — it’s very in-your-face and aggressive, which is cool. . . . It was cool because people realized — people have this idea of us, they know the name but haven’t seen us, so they think of us along the lines of the soft, poppy ballad bands from ‘Pretty in Pink’ and ‘Love My Way.’ When they actually see the show, we are a really heavy band — not Metallica heavy, but rock ’n’ roll heavy.”
Part of this misconception over the years was in fact due to “Pretty in Pink” and the film, which helped break the band to a much wider audience in the U.S. The band had experienced considerable college and alternative radio success in the U.S. and in England with its first four albums, but their 1986 re-recording of “Pretty in Pink” landed them their biggest hit up to that point.
The subsequent album “Midnight to Midnight” was an attempt to shore up mainstream audiences, which worked when “Heartbreak Beat” became their only Top 40 hit in the U.S. At the same time, the album ended up losing the band some of its cult fans.
“That album was a very ’80s album, and people got the idea we were almost like a soft rock sort of band, where before that we weren’t and after that we tried to get back to what we are,” Tim said. “A lot of the older fans were scared off by the whole ‘Midnight to Midnight’ thing, and didn’t come back at the time, but they are coming back now. We get fans coming up to us — ‘I’ve wanted to see you since the “Forever Now” tour, but I didn’t like “Midnight,” but now it’s better than what I remember back then.’ Which is great to hear.”
The Butler brothers are the only original members of the group left today (although Williams, who rejoined in 2005, was with the band through the ’80s). They’ve stuck together over the years, forming Love Spit Love in the ’90s after the Furs’ split, but remaining more of a cult act in the wake of the decade’s bigger alternative rock successes.
“We were sort of burnt out with each other, burnt out with the whole idea of the Furs,” Tim said. “That’s why Richard and I formed Love Spit Love. I think in the ’80s and early ’90s we did our part to help establish alternative music, and we were willing to pass the buck on.”
Tim still hears the Furs’ influence in modern rock, especially ’80s-tinged groups such as The Killers (who are vocal fans of the Furs). The band continues playing to new generations today, expanding that influence with what Tim considers to be the strongest lineup of the group yet.
“The original one was great, and there were classic songs, and ‘Talk Talk Talk,’ but I think the band now is — we get on better,” Tim said. “And onstage, it’s a better show musically. We’re not out there, like we maybe were back then, but now we’re all happy. Richard and I are happy in ourselves and how things are going. It’s just a way better experience than I can ever remember before.”