Back to the '80s

Psychedelic Furs, the Fixx, and the Alarm, Avalon, July 10, 2007
By BRETT MILANO  |  July 16, 2007
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THE WAY THEY WERE: Richard Butler now looks as if he'd spent some time at the gym.

If one thing’s changed about the Psychedelic Furs since their heyday in the ’80s, it’s frontman Richard Butler’s stage presence. Twenty years ago, he tended to look malnourished, often taking the stage in a bathrobe with a cigarette in a manner that suggested he resented the audience for making him show up. Butler’s world-weary voice hasn’t changed a bit, but now he looks as if he’d spent some time at the gym: on stage at Avalon a week ago Tuesday, he jogged in place between songs and grinned throughout.

Headlining an all-’80s bill with the Fixx and the Alarm, the Furs were the band who seemed most comfortable as a nostalgia act. Butler, his bassist brother Tim, and guitarist John Ashton revived the Furs more than a decade ago, and they haven’t been to the studio since. So, with the exception of the newish “Wrong Train” (released on a 2001 live DVD), their 75-minute set zigzagged between the edgy punk-with-sax of their first two albums and the dance rock of the next few. The former held up better, but “Heartbeat” and “Heaven” brought the ‘80s-club-hopping flashbacks. For continued relevance there was “President Gas,” with its chorus of “It’s sick, the price of medicine.” Yes, Butler scooped Michael Moore by a quarter-century.

Once known as a glossy new-wave band, the Fixx are going more for snob appeal nowadays, playing sophisticated pop with Steely Dan–like precision. Their set spotlit new tunes and left out some hits, among them the era’s best Police ripoff, “Are We Ourselves?” As always, they soared when they had a good hook to work with and meandered when they didn’t: the new “All’s Fair in Love and War” stood out, and they had “Saved by Zero” to take it home. New-wave historians could note Gary Tibbs (ex–Vibrators/Roxy Music/Adam & the Ants) on bass.

Alarm frontman Mike Peters is rocking for his life nowadays, having music to steer him through an ongoing battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. His new Alarm was even more anthemic than the original, and Peters still has the voice and heart to bring it off. In the old days, “Not Giving Up Without a Fight” would have been just another fist waver. Now it’s a personal statement.

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