Article and Photo Credit L. Paul Mann
On a beautiful summer evening, English New Wave Legends Psychedelic Furs, and James, played the final date of their 2019 U.S. tour. Music fans arrived at the venue early to enjoy the warm summer sun and celebrate with a variety of local spirits at the well-stocked bars located across the amphitheater. The joint Live Nation, Nederlander Production featured a local fitting act, Dear Boys as openers for the show. The young Los Angeles band wrote their first EP, which was released in 2013, in Vauxhall, London. Lead singer and guitarist Ben Grey shared with the audience at the end of their brief 30-minute set, “We are honored to have shared the stage with James and Psychedelic Furs, and you can tell how they have greatly influenced this band.” The young band did share a sound much like English New Wave bands of that genre. But the young musicians have managed to make the music their own, and it is a refreshing sound. The group, which also features Keith Cooper (drums), Austin Hayman (guitar) and Nils Bue (bass), played soothing songs from their three EP’s, including their new single “Heaven Moves.”
After a short intermission James emerged just as a setting sun bathed the band in an orange glow. The eight-member band fronted by one of the most charismatic lead singers of the New Wave genre, Tim Booth managed to cram 11 songs in a set limited to just over an hour. The mesmerizing set was nothing short of amazing, and the band dominated the entire night of music. It was unfortunate that the group was limited to such a short set, especially since they have over 250 songs to share in their catalog, from no less than 15 studio albums. Although the group’s founding goes back to 1982, it was the 90’s decade that saw the band release their most significant string of hits. But unlike many other bands of the New Wave era, James continues to release relevant new music. That was apparent at the Greek theater show as Booth introduced the first song of the set. “This is our angry song,” he quipped as the group broke into “Hank” from their latest album Living In Extraordinary Times, released last year. An animated Booth led the group in the dramatic opening song which couldn’t be more relevant to the current political climate in the country. The song was all the more relevant after the trio of mass shootings in the last few weeks. The lyrics redirected at gun violence included, “This crackhead’s tiny fingers / accusing you of what he’ll do / white fascists in the White House / More beetroot in your Russian stew.” By the time the band broke into their third tune of the set, their 1990 hit “Come Home,” from the Madchester album, Booth couldn’t contain his whirling Dervish inspired energy and wandered off the stage for his first foray deep into the crowd. Booth wandered to the middle of the amphitheater posing for selfies with concert-goers, shaking hands while beaming wildly, singing directly to mesmerized music fans and even shaking hands with a press photographer before prancing back to the stage. All the while, the six-member band laid down intricate music with elements of jazz, classical and a bit of post-punk rock mixed in an elegant musical cocktail. The bands sound is a bit like an English version of REM. But while that innovative band retired long ago, James continues to evolve their sound like a meandering river making its way towards the ocean.
It wasn’t until the fourth song of the evening that many in the crowd recognized the music, when the band played their first hit in the United States the 1994 single “Laid.” That launched most of the crowd onto their feet when many people realized for the first time who this charismatic band was.
As the band continued their phenomenal set, they were joined by Psychedelic Furs Sax player, Mars Williams. Williams dueled with the extraordinary James trumpet player Andy Diagram. Diagram is a veteran of the band dating back to the 1980s. Other members of the band included veteran guitarist, violinist, and percussionist Saul Davies, also a veteran of the band back to the ’80s. Jim Glennie, the original bassist of the band returned to the group in 2007 after a six-year hiatus. Drummer David Baynton-Power is another veteran member of the band dating back to the ’80s. Keyboardist Mark Hunter has also been a member since the ’80s. The band also featured lead guitarist Adrian Oxaal on lead guitar, the newest member of the band, joining them in the mid-’90s. As the group neared the end of their set, singer Booth who was by then wound up like the energizer bunny again bolted into the crowd. The emboldened singer ended up climbing up the outside railing of the balcony to sing to music fans at the top of the venue. After the band completed their ten-song set, the stage manager ran out to let them know they could play one additional song. James concluded with the well-known tune “Sound” from the Seven album to an extended standing ovation and ended the set on an optimistic note.
Twilight set in, and stars began to appear in the summer evening sky as the Psychedelic Furs took the stage for their headline set. The band led by original singer Richard Butler and brother Tum Butler on bass played a nostalgic set relying heavily on their hit songs from the 1980s. The band was founded in London, amidst the punk rock scene in 1977, but the ’80s was the era that saw them become one of the defining bands of the New Wave dance music era. Fierce fans of the group could be heard singing along to nearly every song on the setlist. The set opened with “Love My Way” from the band’s third album Forever Now released in 1982. Singer Richard Butler sauntered onto the stage dressed like a rock star and instantly connected with the audience. The personable front man pranced about the stage locking glances with members of the audience at every turn. Unlike James, The Furs embrace the nostalgic component of their music and revel in it, seemingly locked in a 1980’s time warp. Mars Williams, fresh from his guest foray with James, added another dimension to the catchy tunes with his jazz driven saxophone skills. Butler’s characteristic raspy vocals took center stage on the tune, “Heaven,” an MTV and 1980’s disco favorite.