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Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009

Psychedelic Furs: Britain’s Original Killers

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It's been nearly a decade, but the Psychedelic Furs still have that new reunion smell. After a nine-year hiatus that ate up much of the 1990s, the band reunited in 2000, but only in a touring capacity, and their perennially announced but never-quite-recorded new album remains up in the air. The only thing that ties the British post-punk legends to the present is as a reference point for the modern synth-rock sound.

But they make a hell of a reference point, so much so that The Killers offered the Furs a spot on their latest American tour. The offer came two weeks after the Furs had finalized tour plans with another band, the newly reformed Happy Mondays.

There's an obvious draw to see the Psychedelic Furs go head-to-head with the Killers, one that can be summed up in one line.

"Since they're influenced by us," says Furs bassist Tim Butler, "we must have some sort of leg up, right?"

He's kidding about the one-upmanship, but it's hard to deny the appeal of watching a longtime legend perform alongside its highest-achieving musical progeny.

Butler mentions The Killers more than once in our interview. They're an example of success, the prototype of the rock scene the Furs are returning to, and the first band he mentions when talking about new music he likes or new music that will influence the way the Furs approach a long-awaited new album. He mentions them with pride and with fandom.

The Killers are more than the endpoint of the Furs' musical lineage; they represent the shortest distance between the Furs' classic sound and its modern interpretation. And that's a gap the Furs plan to traverse on their upcoming album—even if their "Pretty in Pink" still holds up pretty well.

"It won't be the Furs back then; it will be the Furs with an updated, current sound, and considering that our sound is used now anyways, it's quite a cool proposition for us," Butler says of their next album, fully aware of the dizzying logic of learning from bands that were taught by his band.

"Sonically, what people like, what people listen to, has more of a rap beat," he says. "It's more dance orientated."

What he is describing is, essentially, the change the Happy Mondays helped shepherd into music. The Mondays were the more bruising half of the two inextricably linked bands that formed the core of Manchester's late-'80s dance-rock scene. Where the other group, The Stone Roses, was about stable music from trippy, 1960s guitar rock, the Mondays captured the pure chaos of the emerging rave culture. So the Furs' perfect "rap beat," "dance orientated" influence will be sharing the stage on this tour.

Don't expect much evidence that the Furs are working on a new album when they perform. They've used each show on this tour to play a classic album through to completion, usually Talk, Talk, Talk. It makes for a sing-along kind of show. In public, they are emphasizing nostalgia over the future.

In private, they are thrilled to be working on something entirely new. They are excited that, after 30 years, their downtime has finally freed them from expectations that a new album will rocket up the charts every other year (an expectation, Butler says, of current "it" bands, like The Killers). And they are excited that, without that pressure, they are free to take their time and achieve musical ambitions the band can place infinitely high.

"I can't wait to get something out there," Butler says, "and to show that the Furs are still relevant."

The Psychedelic Furs and Happy Mondays share an 8 p.m. show with Amusement Parks on Fire on Sept. 9 at The Pabst Theater.