The Psychedelic Furs w/ X: Made Of Rain 2022 Tour; Rose Music Center; Dayton, OH; Wednesday, July 6, 2022
As if special ordered for the day of The Psychedelic Furs “Made of Rain” tour’s arrival in Dayton, Wednesday was a dreary, rainy day at mid-afternoon, but by the time the opening act, legendary L.A. punk band X, hit the stage the sun was shining across the stage from the west. Back when the winter was starting to fade and we began hearing about expected summer tours, the pairing of British new wave artists The Psychedelic Furs with X seemed especially appropriate. The two acts started at about the same time in the late 70’s, had toured consistently here in the 2000’s and 2010’s, and both had released new albums in 2020 after an extended period with no new recorded music. While the audience for this pair of veteran rock artists was spirited and responsive the concert venue appeared to be less than half full, but that didn’t put a damper on either the performances from the stage or the experience of the faithful who came out for the show.
As The Psychedelic Furs took the stage, Richard Butler the band’s lead singer came to middle stage and bowed elegantly as if addressing royalty, as the veteran musicians that make up the current Furs’ line-up kicked off the raucous, rather direct and less-than-romantic “I Just Wanna Sleep With You.” Musically, the Furs sound while centered on Butler’s unique vocal delivery, is a rich, often complex and textured approach, driven on the throbbing rhythm of the band’s other original member, Butler’s brother Tim on bass, and the newest member, drummer Zack Alford. Then weaving the colorful sonic tapestry that gives The Psychedelic Furs its lush musicality are Mars Williams on saxophone, Amanda Kramer on keyboards and Rich Good on guitars. “Mr. Jones,” a crunchy, angry rocker about humanity in cultural decline, with Good’s guitars and Williams’ alto sax in tandem, creating a unique musical synergy.
While Butler and his vocals are clearly the central focus, and he’s a theatrical singer who often gestures with his hands and arms as if acting out the content of his lyrics, he barely spoke between songs beyond the occasional “thank you.” For instance, as the band dove into “You’ll Be Mine,” the first of 6 songs played from their new-ish album, “Made of Rain,” the Furs’ first studio album since 1991, he never once mentioned the record. This was one of those richly textured rockers, where there’s an underlying drone like quality, while the blend of soprano sax, various keys, and guitars produces a pleasing sound that somehow resembles a Scottish bagpipe set against the counterpoint of Alford’s propulsive Bo Diddley beat. Next up the punkish rant of the band’s early track, “Dumb Waiters,” with intense solos from both Good and Williams. Butler seemed a bit disenchanted with “The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll,” only singing the first of the verses then waiting for the instrumental to segue into “Wrong Train,” two from the new album. The latter’s big guitar sound, requiring a road crew member to join in with a second electric guitar, allowing Good room for a spirited guitar solo while Butler gave the song’s lyrics a dramatic reading.
For “Imitation of Christ,” which goes all the way back to the band’s 1980 debut, one of many of the Furs’ songs that relies on religious imagery, Butler routinely extended his arms to imitate hanging from a cross. The lush instrumental section allowed for longer, more expressive solos from Williams and Good. Stuck in the rear behind her keyboards while Butler and the three other players out front roamed the stage freely, Kramer’s contribution on synths is integral to the Furs’ sound, and her melodic presence broke through with the somewhat floaty melody of “The Ghost In You,” one of the band’s bigger hits on this side of the Atlantic. Another example where Butler let the songs do the talking came next, with “President Gas,” a song written all the way back in 1982 that feels especially prescient given the political turmoil of the last 6 years. The song featured a rock & roll style sax solo and some screaming guitar work from Good.
Next up was “Pretty in Pink,” an early hit that got a second life through the John Hughes film of the same name. It featured Kramer’s keyboards more central in the mix, with a brief solo, and a big melodic pop-oriented solo from Williams on sax. Next, came three songs from “Made of Rain,” all without introduction – “This’ll Never Be Like Love,” “No-One,” and “Ash Wednesday.” The first was a melodramatic ballad, the second mentions “sirens,” which seemed to fuel the creative drama in solos from Good and Williams while Kramer’s keyboards rang out like church bells. Butler led the band into the final songs of the set, choosing some of the bigger hit singles, the synth-driven pop of “Love My Way,” and the band’s breakout MTV hit, “Heaven,” which closed out the set.
The band quickly returned to encore with “Heartbreak Beat,” perhaps the band’s most definitive single, Butler pounding out the rhythm with his hand on his chest, bowing in a curious cross-legged crouch to greet fans down front. Then they ended the evening with the somewhat exotic “India,” with more of that droning Eastern musical influence against the driving beat of Tim Butler on bass and Alford on drums. The lush textures of the band’s musical preferences came to the surface, with Williams offering a sax solo with a long, theatrically held note. Richard Butler offered another low, majestic bow like the one he gave at the beginning of the night and was off the stage before the band brought the song to a close.
Remarkably, X continues on with it’s original four members – John Doe, Exene Cervenka, D.J. Bonebrake and Billy Zoom. On Wednesday night, Zoom came out with the road manager before the 8 o’clock start time, tuned up his Gretsch hollow-body electric guitar (like the tribute model named after him in 2008), and pulled up a bar stool before the rest of the band hit the stage. Zoom dealt with bladder cancer in 2015, and despite playing the first 3/4’s of the set from his stool, he played with all the dexterity and musicality we’ve come to expect. Zoom’s rockabilly guitar style meshed with the folk/rock songs and unique vocal harmonies of Exene and Doe, often sped up to a fast punk rhythm by Bonebrake tends to define X’s memorable style. They opened the set with the first track from their iconic debut album, “Los Angeles,” “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not.” Exene in a Western dress and cowboy boots, wearing a jacket with the band’s “X” design on the back of her jacket in glittering stones, singing lead on the verses, joined by Doe on the choruses. They switched roles on “Free” a song from the band’s 2020 release, “ALPHABETLAND.” They followed it with “Breathless,” an old school rock & roll number by Otis Blackwell, which became associated with rock & roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis.
“The Hungry Wolf” followed with a drum break in the middle with a fun solo from Bonebrake, then on the title track of “ALPHABETLAND” followed, Doe playing the fast bassline, and the band joined by auxiliary player Craig Packham on acoustic guitar. “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” a song originated in the 20’s swing era was delivered with a bit of a surf beat, and a bit of a weepy, sad Mariachi song feel in Zoom’s guitar solo. Doe introduced Exene’s “Come Back to Me” as a slow dance song, suggesting that if the outdoor shed had a mirror ball it would come in handy. Packham moved over to drums freeing up Bonebrake to move to play vibes, while Zoom played a sad sounding sax solo. Doe described “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” as a sing-along with only one line repeated, to which Zoom added a jazzy guitar solo, before Bonebrake played an elegant melodic solo on the vibes, and when Zoom stepped forward to play his sax attached to a microphone stand, I noticed he had stuck his guitar pick to his sweaty forehead. Necessity is truly the mother of invention.
Returning the drum kit, Bonebrake played the fast drum roll intro to “Water & Wine,” again Exene and Doe’s organic vocal harmonies defining the lyric, while Zoom takes a solo rich with his natural rockabilly leanings. “Adult Books” feels a bit like old school rock & roll at the front end, “Beyond and Back” was based on another rockabilly riff, then Doe said “this one’s about our hometown,” launching into the punk anthem and title track of the band’s debut, “Los Angeles.” At this point Packham returned to pick up his acoustic, but Doe shook him off, and the band leaned into the heavier rocker, “Nausea,” Zoom rising up for the rest of the set starting with “Johny Hit and Run Pauline,” legs spread on the punchy rockabilly rocker. They moved quickly into the fast punk original “Motel Room in My Bed,” and then quickly closed the set with fast, supercharged cover of the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen,” which also came from the band’s debut.
As X finished up their strong set, Exene told the excited crowd, “We love you very much, and it’s nice to see you again.” Now 45 years into their legacy, the four original members of X alive and kicking it in their 60’s, Richard and Tim Butler also from that same generation, these two different bands with vital new music to share; it’s a good thing to see and hear these bands in 2022. There’s a saying that “living well is the best revenge.” Revenge for what, I’m not sure, but I couldn’t agree more.
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