BIAB: Heartbreak Beat

This one has a bare reference to current events in the slightest way possible, because we (meaning The Girlfriend and I) were out last night to see The Psychedelic Furs play live locally at the Cat’s Cradle – happy birthday to me! (It wasn’t actually my birthday, but the band wasn’t playing here on that date – I guess they forgot.)

One of the reasons that I like 80s music, beside the obvious and most influential bit about it being the era that I “grew up” in… – okay, isn’t that a ridiculous phrase, pretty much completely meaningless? I grew “up” between the ages of nothing (or at the very least, when I became bipedal) and, I dunno, about 20 years or so when I hit my maximum height, and am presently growing down I think. It could easily be argued that I am still growing up, since I just so happen to be getting older every year (see that bit up there about birthday,) or it could just as easily be argued that I never grew up at all (see that bit about, well, pretty much everywhere on the blog.) So to clarify, my late adolescent to early adulthood (or something) years fell within the 80s when I was paying the most attention to music, because I wasn’t getting laid then and never got into drugs, so what the hell else was I gonna get into? Star Wars? Dungeons & Dragons? Motorcycles? Writing a bunch of crap? Working a variety of forgettable jobs? Well, okay, yeah, I got into all of those too, but I found time in there to listen to music occasionally…

Let’s try again.

One of the reasons that I like 80s music is how many of the bands composed music. Each instrument had its place, and were often used to counterpoint one another, or fill in small gaps, or set a background theme. While there were often recognizable “riffs,” many of the songs had a lot more to them than that – I was about to say that they were “blended,” but that’s entirely the wrong word. The instruments aren’t all mashed together into a wall of noise, but fitted, usually distinct yet making the melody with a lot of subtle variations and flourishes. As an example, of course, I provide The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Heartbreak Beat,’ their highest charting single but probably not their most well-known – that honor goes to ‘Pretty in Pink,’ which was used in the movie of the same name, but ‘Love My Way’ also seems to spark more recognition. Nonetheless, listen to the way this particular song is put together, and see how many instruments you can detect:

This video version (and I think the 7″ single release) is slightly truncated from the album version, completely unnecessarily I might add. Anyway, chances are you picked out every instrument, or nearly all, that performed in the track, and you may have noticed the complete lack of ‘power chords’ or a domineering guitar. Undoubtedly, you also noticed the British accent; Richard Butler is one of those whose accent doesn’t almost vanish when singing (another example can be found here,) and it’s part of what makes the lyrics work.

Now, a lot of this can be lost during live performances, mostly due to the ridiculous volume that is somehow considered necessary, but I’m forced to admit, this recent set from the Furs actually handled it all pretty well. The Girlfriend and I still used earplugs, which dropped the volume down to a pleasant level, but even with that the instruments and Butler’s voice still came through with most of the studio quality to them – not all, of course, and this should never be expected from a live performance, but significantly better than most bands that I’ve heard (not a huge list.) One exception was Colin Hay, but that was a very small, folksy venue and a solo performance on assisted acoustic guitar, so c’mon. But I have to mention something missing from this live performance, and that was backing vocals. Guitarist Rich Good had his own mic and did a little assistance on the choruses, and bassist Tim Butler (yes, Richard’s brother) also seemed to hit the first few words of the choruses but it wasn’t even clear if he was wired for vocals. Otherwise, they counted on the crowd to fill in, which is okay, but most of the Furs’ songs have distinctive backing to them, so it was a shame to be lacking this for their stage set.

I have to note that I heard the Furs play before, back in 1993 I believe, and (this is going to stretch coincidence almost beyond credulity) also at the Cat’s Cradle – only at its old location. The Cradle is a curious thing. While larger than most bars, it’s still a local music outlet and quite small – this is not a stadium or auditorium or, really, much more than a dive; I’m pretty sure the owners take pride in its ‘unpolished’ appearance. And yet, it gets some surprisingly big acts playing there. I distinctly recall the first time I saw the Furs play, as we were leaving the venue we passed a rig sitting in the parking lot alongside, rear doors open to reveal an interior 3/4 stuffed with lighting equipment, provided for the tour yet unable to be installed on a stage the size of our living room (I’m not joking.) This time around I took note: there were two light bars, each about five meters in length – one in front of and one behind the stage. That’s it.

If you want an example of the set, there’s this video from a couple months earlier in the tour, just accept that it’s not exactly a professional recording with, you know, managed sound levels. That’s, ‘The Ghost in You,’ presently my favorite Furs song, but the studio version (for comparison) can be found here. Other notable songs from the Furs include, ‘Pretty in Pink,’ and ‘Love My Way,’ as mentioned, and also, ‘House,’ and, ‘Until She Comes.’ If you want to hear an extended remix of the track featured above, there’s this version. Back at the first go-around, the only song that I really knew was ‘Heartbreak Beat” and they didn’t fucking play it – not sure how that one slipped past. But this time we got to hear all of them, so it’s good.