Psychedelic Furs set for Ithaca show Sunday at the State Theatre
Some of the most popular British bands of the 1980s are having creative revivals decades into their careers.
In October, Duran Duran released “Future Past,” which found them working with a variety of producers and musicians to inject new energy into their trademark grooves.
Tears for Fears just put out “The Tipping Point,” an ambitious album that builds on their classic sound with introspective lyrics and new musical textures.
And then there’s the Psychedelic Furs, who will perform Sunday night at the State Theatre of Ithaca.
Known for 1980s hits such as “Love My Way,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “Heartbreak Beat,” the band hadn’t recorded new material since reuniting in 2000 after an eight-year hiatus. But in 2020, the band released “Made of Rain,” its first studio album since 1991’s “World Outside.” Chock-full of songs – “Wrong Train,” “The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll,” “You’ll Be Mine” – that fit neatly along with their well-known material, the album demonstrates that the Psychedelic Furs are still a creative force with which to be reckoned.
In a recent phone interview, Tim Butler, the P-Furs’ bassist, explained the 29-year gap between records.
“Since we got back together in 2000, we've been talking about doing a new album, and we've been writing songs and passing them around with each other,” he said. “We hadn't felt that we had songs good enough to be recorded and to put on an album – we were very worried about how they would stand up to our catalog. But we finally came to a decision after we had 16 songs – we thought, ‘Hey, you know, these songs are big enough.’
“And the band was firing on all cylinders because we've been doing constant touring since we got back together, so we decided now's the time to go in and do it. And we did it really quickly, which is why I think the album sounds really fresh. All the songs are like two or three takes and it's raw, and you can tell there’s nothing's tired on there.”
The new album incorporates some contemporary influences, but the classic Psychedelic Furs sound remains intact – indeed, the band is still blessed with Richard Butler’s trademark rough-hewn voice, one of the more recognizable in popular music.
“That does help, especially nowadays, when you listen to the radio and you can't tell one voice from another,” Tim said. “Very few people have such a distinguishable voice, maybe Bono and Morrissey. So, yeah, we are very lucky.”
While he has written much of the band’s music (to which Richard writes the lyrics) in the past, Tim Butler noted that two other band members – guitarist Rich Good and drummer Paul Garisto – also contributed to the songwriting for the new album. “They came up with some ideas and sent them around the internet, and then we would go into a rehearsal studio and jam around them,” he said. “And if they seemed to click, we’d keep them; even if they didn’t, we’d put them on the shelf for a different time. But it was really a lot easier than having the pressure on me and Richard to be the only ones coming in with ideas.”
While the band had previously worked with some well-known producers – Steve Lillywhite, Todd Rundgren, Chris Kimsey, and Keith Forsey – they enlisted Richard Fortus to helm the “Made of Rain” sessions. Best known as a guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and former member of Love Spit Love (the Butlers’ post-Furs 1990s band), as well as a touring Furs guitarist in 2000-2002, Fortus hadn’t produced an album himself but was able to bring a crucial component to the recording process.
“Richard has been a fan of ours for a long time, so he was able to steer us away from some potentially bad directions and point us toward what worked better from a fan’s point of view,” Butler said.
Besides the Butlers and guitarist Good, the P-Furs include longtime saxophonist Mars Williams, who joined in 1983. Fun fact: Williams, a member of The Waitresses (“I Know What Boys Like,” “Christmas Wrapping”) in the early 1980s, played an avant-garde jazz gig in Ithaca in 2019 with fellow saxman Ken Vandermark.
Keyboardist Amanda Kramer and drummer Zack Alford, who replaced Garisto after the new album was recorded and who has played with David Bowie, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and the B-52s, round out the lineup.
Butler said the band has been itching to return to the road, especially after the pandemic put a damper on touring for the past two years.
“We were really excited about the album coming out and being able to tour and play the new songs for the audience,” he said. “And, of course, the coronavirus and the lockdown stymied our intentions. So now we’re going out to make up for it. It’s always been enjoyable ever since we got back together to reinvigorate the old Furs stuff, but now that we got the new stuff to play it’s extra exciting for us every night.”
And his favorite part about touring and playing live?
“After all the work of writing and recording, to be out there playing and seeing people singing the song lyrics back at you,” he said. “That's the best thing – there's no drug or anything that can recreate that, seeing people that into it.”
Royston Langdon to open
Royston Langdon, ex-frontman of Britpop band Spacehog (best known for the hit “In The Meantime”), will open the show. He released an EP titled “Chains” last fall as a follow-up to his 2018 solo debut “Everything’s Dandy.” Find out more here.
If You Go
Who: The Psychedelic Furs, with Royston Langdon
What: “Made of Rain” tour
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, March 13
Where: State Theatre of Ithaca
Cost: $25-$45, available online here.
Note: An earlier version of this article referred to the Psychedelic Furs' Ithaca debut this weekend; according to alert reader Jim Wells, the band played at the State Theatre of Ithaca in 1990. This story has been updated.