Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Psych Furs/Happy Mondays concert review

2007 Photo by Trisha Lynch
My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register

Psychedelic Furs, Happy Mondays
Where: House of Blues Anaheim
When: Sept. 19

Back in the late 1980s, Manchester, England’s Happy Mondays crafted an alluring sound that mixed soul, hip-hop and psychedelic rock elements. Discovered by music impresario Tony Wilson (who also shepherded the careers of Joy Division and New Order and is the subject of great 2002 cult film, “24 Hour Party People”), the hedonistic hoodlums signed to Factory Records.

Following their debut disc in 1987, the Mondays spearheaded an influential rave scene throughout U.K. dance clubs. Crossing the pond, the band reached an apex of popularity with hit 1990 album “Pills ‘n’ Thrills & Bellyaches,” co-produced by Paul Oakenfold. A few years later, the band dissolved amid drugs and legal entanglements. Lead singer Shaun Ryder, drummer Gary Whelan and vibes man Bez reconvened for 2007’s “Uncle Dysfunktional” and an uneven performance at Coachella that year.

Before Happy Mondays took the Mouse House stage on Saturday night, one had to wonder whether the unpredictable Ryder would actually be coherent, if any original members bothered to turn up and if they could get through a gig without it becoming a train wreck. The answers probably disappointed longtime fans who attended their rare O.C. appearance.

Ryder was joined by nephew Jake on drums and three other young musicians (Whelan and Bez were absent). The front man seemed somewhat lucid behind a pair of dark shades, but stood stiffly onstage. Reportedly sober for several years now, there was a newfound clarity to his vocals, but Julie Gordon did all the heavy lifting in that department.

Sonically, the 45-minute set in Anaheim was a muddled mess. Despite opening with “Kinky Afro,” the audience got a batch of mostly unfamiliar tunes and barely danced until the slinky hit “Loose Fit” and extended rollicking closer “Step On.” What good is a Mondays show without a bunch of people shaking their stuff?

By the time Psychedelic Furs began its late night performance, the venue was packed with enthusiastic followers who loudly cheered and sang along at every turn. Although the veteran London post-punk group hasn’t had a new studio work to promote, but has been promising one since the 2000 reunion, it hardly felt like a nostalgia fest on Saturday. Several setlist additions for this tour brought a new vitality to the proceedings.

Examples of The Furs’ importance amid the modern rock pantheon have been turning up more frequently lately. Recent reassessments of late film director/producer John Hughes’ career frequently cited the classic soundtrack “Pretty in Pink,” which was spawned by the Furs’ original track. French buzz band Nouvelle Vague covered “Heaven” on its new album “3.” The Furs also opened for The Killers at the Hollywood Bowl last week, where both acts did “Pink” together.

Launching with a lean “Love My Way,” Furs leader Richard Butler, alongside brother Tim (bass), mid-‘80s members Paul Garisto (drums) and Mars Williams (sax), plus Amanda Kramer (keyboards) and new recruit Richard Good (guitar), sounded strong during the 80-minute concert. Richard was jubilant and in fine raspy voice. He did his signature spinning move, dramatic gestures and interacted with both fans (shaking hands) and bandmates.

Among the standouts: a jaunty “Heartbeat” (Williams nailed one of many blazing solos), politically-minded “President Gas” (ostensibly about Ronald Reagan, lines like “it’s sick/the price of medicine” still resonate 27 years later), an endearing “The Ghost in You” driven by airy synths, the spiraling Love Spit Love rocker “Believe” and the frenzied “Pink,” which was dispatched halfway through and got a rousing response.

Those who favored the dark and moody Furs side weren’t ignored either (“No Easy Street,” “Sister Europe”). Maybe it was the smaller venue vibe (my previous two Furs experiences were at Verizon and Pacific Amphitheatres), but this was the best I’ve seen the band in years.

Happy Mondays setlist:
Kinky Afro/Monster/Close the Dam/Loose Fit/Reverend Black Grape/Anti Warhole on the Dancefloor/Jellybean/Mumbo Jumbo/Step On

Psychedelic Furs setlist:
Love My Way/Heartbeat/Like a Stranger/President Gas/The Ghost in You/In My Head/All of This and Nothing/Believe/Pretty in Pink/No Easy Street/Sister Europe/It Goes On/I Don’t Want to Be Your Shadow/Heaven
Encore: She is Mine/Forever Now

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