Review: The Psychedelic Furs rock McKees Rocks |

Review: The Psychedelic Furs rock McKees Rocks

Paul Guggenheimer
Paul Guggenheimer | Tribune-Review
The Psychedlic Furs played a show July 16 in McKees Rocks’ Roxian Theater.
Paul Guggenheimer | Tribune-Review
The Psychedlic Furs played a show July 16 in McKees Rocks’ Roxian Theater.
Paul Guggenheimer | Tribune-Review
The Psychedlic Furs played a show July 16 in McKees Rocks’ Roxian Theater.

It was 10 p.m. Tuesday night in the beautifully restored Roxian Theatre in McKees Rocks and the Psychedelic Furs still hadn’t hit the stage. The bill, which featured opening bands of James and Dear Boy, was running behind but I had waited nearly 40 years to see these guys, so, another 10 or 15 minutes wasn’t going to make a difference.

In fact, it was starting to feel like one of those late night shows at the Rathskeller, the punk rock haven in Boston where bands like The Police, The Cars and The Ramones had played during my college days. And then, just as new wave music was coming into its own, along came the Psychedelic Furs.

I’m not exactly sure what made me buy their self-titled debut album, but when I dropped the needle on the vinyl, it felt as if the bony fingers of vocalist Richard Butler had reached through the speakers and shaken me by the collar.

The song that really got my attention was “Sister Europe,” with the powerful bass line played by Richard’s brother Tim, and the dark Duncan Kilburn saxophone underpinning. I loved the way Butler bit off the words as he sung them.

Broken on a ship of fools

Even dreams must fall to rules

So stupidly

Words are all just useless sound

Just like cards they fall around

And we will be

That voice. There was no voice like Butler’s in rock ’n’ roll. Like that of a man who had just come through a storm or a street fight and swallowed broken glass.

What would it sound like four decades later, at age 63, I wondered? The Roxian crowd of nearly 1,000 would not have to wait much longer to learn the answer.

To the sounds of oddly appropriate, recorded operatic music, Richard Butler took the stage with his bandmates, all dressed in black except Tim, who was sporting a red blazer. All except lead guitarist Rich Good were wearing dark glasses.

Butler put all doubts to rest about having lost anything to age as the band launched into “Love My Way.” His voice sounded as spicy and melodic as ever as he jumped around the stage in a dark, knee-length frock coat. The audience, recognizing the opening strains, exploded with joy.

For a snarling singer of so many cynical songs, Butler looked like he was having a blast, smiling his way through “Mr. Jones” and “The Ghost in You,” the latter tune appearing on the soundtrack for the ’80s-themed Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

Then, as Butler tossed off his coat to reveal a black vest over a black, button-down shirt with white polka dots, he began a trance-inducing version of “Sister Europe.”

Stupid on the Steinway

So sick upon a Steinway

The sailors drown

See them talk and see them drown

And see them drink and fall around

Upon the floor

Sister of mine home again

Sister of mine home again

Butler hissed and swayed as drummer Paul Garisto and Tim on bass played in lock step as they laid down a mesmerizing beat. Mars Williams’ swooning saxophone solo made the tune as satisfying as the first time I heard it, the pristine Roxian acoustics adding heft to the overall sound.

The Psychedelic Furs haven’t released any new music since 1991. But just when their Pittsburgh audience was lured into thinking there would be no unfamiliar tunes messing with the mojo of what they came to hear, Butler introduced a fine-sounding song called “The Boy That Invented Rock and Roll” that he says will appear on a forthcoming album.

Other than that, Butler had little to say to the audience beyond a quick “thank you,” often accompanied by a deep bow. However, he shook so many hands that were reaching out to him that he could have been mistaken for a 2020 presidential candidate.

“Heartbreak Beat,” including a great guitar solo by Good, brought the crowd back into satisfyingly familiar territory. It was followed by a searing version of “President Gas,” a song that fits the times. And then “Sleep Comes Down” featuring splendid keyboard work by Amanda Kramer that fit into an exquisite wall of sound.

The Furs’ sax-infused 1981 hit “Pretty in Pink,” which inspired the film of the same name, closed the pre-encore portion of the show.

The encore consisted of only one song, “India,” which again showcased sax player Williams skillfully climbing a steep ladder of high notes at Butler’s direction.

And just like that, the highly anticipated show was over after one hour and 11 minutes. Butler blew kisses to the crowd as he thanked them one more time. And so ended what I believe to be the coolest show to hit Pittsburgh this year.

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

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