Monday, September 26, 2011

Psychedelic Furs / Tom Tom Club - Live 2011.09.23 The Pageant, St. Louis, Missouri

Two classic 80s bands in one night? Unbelievable!

Artists: Psychedelic Furs and Tom Tom Club
Venue: The Pageant
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 23 September 2011

Tom Tom Club's setlist:
01. Who's Feelin' It
02. Punk Lolita [The Heads song]
03. Man with the Four-Way Hips
04. She's Dangerous
05. L'Éléphant
06. On, On, On, On...
07. Don't Say No
08. Genius of Love
09. You Sexy Thing (I Believe in Miracles) [Hot Chocolate cover]
10. Wordy Rappinghood
11. Take Me to the River [Al Green cover]
12. Psycho Killer [Talking Heads song]

Psychedelic Furs' setlist:
01. Like a Stranger
02. Love My Way
03. Danger
04. Alice's House
05. Heaven
06. Highwire Days
07. Only You and I
08. Believe [Love Spit Love song]
09. Pretty in Pink
10. Wrong Train
11. Heartbreak Beat
12. Sleep Comes Down

13. Mr. Jones
14. India

Tom Tom Club are known to most people simply as the side-project of the rhythm section of Talking Heads that wrote a couple frequently-sampled dance hits in the 80s. That may be an accurate description, but it lacks much of the depth of what makes the band interesting. Tom Tom Club, along with David Byrne and Talking Heads, had a long phase of pursuing funky dance music to the core. Few other white bands were interested in those directions or even knew where to start. Byrne and Talking Heads went down all sorts of other paths, but the Club stayed the course down the line of dance music.

It is also no small coincidence that the shared members of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, are married, and that their son also plays turntable and handles samples for the band. Tina's sisters once sang with their early records, but Tina look-alike and sound-alike Victoria Clamp is now handling the additional vocal duties. A solid funk-rock guitarist (Pablo Martine) and a keyboardist/percussionist (Bruce Martin) round out the group. It's exquisitely clear that these musicians get along well together and just have a lot of fun. They dance across the stage, they trade parts, they can jam, and they keep the energy level up.

I can't say I'm intimately familiar with most of the band's material, but they kept the groove going. Pablo had a great tight rhythmic style and Bruce would pull out flashy percussion bits in the breaks. Tina laid down solid riffs while trading the singing with Victoria, and Chris added the occasional vocal part from behind his kit. When the so-often-sampled keyboard part of "Genius of Love" came up, the crowd ate it up. The following Hot Chocolate cover was perhaps even more fantastic; the female vocal lead was seamless and surprisingly smoothly executed.

Tom Tom Club closed their set with two songs from the days of Talking Heads: the Al Green song "Take Me to the River", fully executed with an extended jam, and a faithful take of "Psycho Killer" with Tina singing lead. The performance was perfect, complete with a great guitar jam at the end. After all, Tina and Chris did co-write the song, so it didn't come as too great a surprise to hear Tina sing a third verse that I didn't recognize, possibly from an early incarnation of the song.

Although billed simply as the opening act, Tom Tom Club played for over an hour, which was probably just about as long as the Psychedelic Furs ended up playing. The Furs are another band that had a big name in the 80s but has been infrequent and largely ignored ever since. The two founding brothers (vocalist Richard Butler and bassist Tim Butler) ended up being the only constant members of the band, and after they put the band to rest, they also co-founded another alt-rock band in the 90s, Love Spit Love. The current incarnation of the Furs is sort of an amalgamation of members from throughout the history of the brothers' two bands: Paul Garisto on drums, Amanda Kramer on keyboards, Mars Williams on saxophone, and Rich Good on guitar and backing vocals.

The Psychedelic Furs can still pack a punch. Mars' sax was a true delight; his lines were the strongest of any of the instrumental breaks. The other musicians were able to reproduce the classic material effortlessly, although this also meant that the band hardly strayed from familiar territory. Nearly the entire set was comprised of hits from the band's first four albums. The only surprises were "Believe", originally a Love Spit Love song, and "Wrong Train", a relatively new and unreleased song. For both of those songs, and in fact most of the second half of the show, lead guitarist Richard Fortus (a local St. Louisian who co-founded Love Spit Love and also plays with Guns N' Roses) joined the band. I can't say this his parts added very much to the sound, and the point at which a rock band reaches seven members means that someone is going to get lost in the mix. Fortus can play a decent guitar, but he certainly jumped around the stage enough to seem like he was trying a little too hard.

Richard Butler's vocals have hardly changed from his glory days. He still has his trademark, slightly gravely, somehow melodic, and impressively constant voice at his disposal. He sings without playing an instrument but remains active enough on stage that it doesn't seem odd. Despite these motions and his mid-song fan interactivity, at every song's end he let out a half-chuckled, rather nervous-sounding "Thanks!" while waiting for the band to play the next tune. His lyrics remain strong and valid, but one couldn't help wish for some of his even more explicitly political lyrics, like "President Gas", which still applies just as well today as it did in Reagan's era.

Unlike Tom Tom Club, the Furs were granted the grace of an encore, for which they played two of my favorites: the sardonic "Mr. Jones" (with one of the band's best lines: "Movie stars and ads / And radio define romance / Don't turn it on") and the grandiose "India", the opener from their debut album. "India" was one of their strongest performances; they matched the studio version's beautiful instrumental crescendo and broke out into the thumping beat of the core of the song.

Both bands managed to pack a lot into about 70 minutes. Initially, I had thought the combination may be a bit of a mismatch, but they actually complemented each other rather well. I suspect that Psychedelic Furs might be the better band ultimately (in terms of bequeathing a greater artistic oeuvre), but the Talking Heads would trump that, if such a thing existed anymore. Tom Tom Club certainly have the dance groove down, and in some ways, one would expect that their resulting higher level of energy would be more likely to land them the slot as headliner, but alas, the Furs probably have the bigger name. It's hard to say which put on the better show, but since it's my job to pick, I'd say the Club. They surprised me – they were having a lot of fun and their set was solid and never uninteresting. Even if I've been a fan of the Furs for much, much longer, and I find their music ultimately more meaningful, their set was a bit too static and predictable. And since I'm reviewing the show and not the sum total of these bands' outputs, that's what determines my grades.

Tom Tom Club: A-
Psychedelic Furs: B

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