Deep Grooves

I Love Trains, Grilled Cheese and the Furs

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In my last post I wrote about how much I enjoy live shows. This past weekend I attended a concert at the Vic Theatre in Chicago. The Psychedelic Furs were playing at the historic venue on Saturday night.

My buddy Dave and I took the South Shore Railroad to the Windy City and rode the ‘L’ up to the Lakeview section of town for dinner at Cheesies, a grilled cheese restaurant across the street from the Vic. Perfect location. I had the Classic, which included ham and bacon, with tomato and special dipping sauce. Dave got a little crazy and ordered one with blue cheese and tater tots. All beverages are $4. Easy math.

It’s good to have a friend like Dave. Our wives allow us go on little play dates but unlike the chaos at a McDonald’s PlayPlace or Chuck E. Cheese’s we turn Chicago, Indianapolis or Cincinnati into our tube run and ball pit but without the germs or bad food. Thanks for the free time, ladies. Thirty days in Costa Rica next summer?

By the way, riding the train is great. And for the price and convenience you can’t beat it. Try driving around and parking in Chicago for less than a round trip on the train. Add in the cost of gasoline and fees for the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway and it makes even more sense. More easy math.

Oh yeah, the concert. Are the Psychedelic Furs my favorite band of all time? No. Call them my guilty pleasure. As I’ve written previously, I go to a lot of shows for free; it’s that work related thing, but I’ve always paid to see the Psychedelic Furs, actually more than any other band – by a wide margin. Even when I was going through my Jimmy Buffett phase in the 90s or attending huge summer festivals like Lollapalooza, it still doesn’t come close to the lengths to which I’ve gone to see the Furs.

Honestly, it’s not as though the band created groundbreaking music that caused a paradigm shift in the pop culture landscape. Tickets aren’t impossible to come by, even though most shows I’ve been to sell out. I know I’m not following the Grateful Dead around the country, selling PB & J sandwiches in the parking lot and yelling out, “I need a miracle,” in desperation to the throng of ticketed fans shuffling through the front gate. This is completely different.

It’s all about the experience. My experience: the preshow, set change, concert, encore and even reflecting on the show with friends afterward. I know it’s all relative but it feels good to be there. Familiar. Special. Exciting. Last Saturday night as I was tearing off my wristband walking out the door of the venue my first thought was, “worth every penny.” Part of me wanted to relive the last 90 minutes, but that feeling only lasts for a moment. Truth is I’m very satisfied with seeing them once, maybe twice, a year. Any more than that and I worry the whole experience might lose its romantic charm.

In my opinion they’re the quintessential example of an ‘80s pop band. I know, you’re thinking, what about Styx, Journey or even Loverboy? Sorry, that’s arena rock. And another blog post. Bands like those never played small venues when they were at their peak and they still only play large arenas now. They tour once every few years and cobble together a touring set that might only have one or two original members.

Journey without Steve Perry? Queen sans Freddy? At least Mike Reno is still leading Loverboy and you can’t tour as Pat Benatar without the real redhead. The Furs are different. They tour consistently; hitting the road for at least 30 dates in the States the last few years.  If it didn’t work for them they wouldn’t do it. The people keep coming. So they keep playing. And the play hard. Never shortchanging the fans.

Most people know them for the re-release of their song “Pretty in Pink” from the 1986 movie of the same name starring Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer. They have only one Top 40 hit from seven studio albums, “Heartbreak Beat.” yet they’ve been around for more than 30 years and have toured the U.S. consistently for more than a decade after their last record.

When I talk to friends about their shows I tend to joke, “Well ya know, it’s an ‘Over 41’ show.” I’m only kidding but half serious, too. With the exception of one 12-year-old boy I let stand on the rail at a Furs show in Cincinnati and the occasional Silver Fox who’s brought his much younger female date, mostly everyone is over 41 or at least born in the ’70s. It wouldn’t surprise me if I walked into a Furs show one night and TBS was filming an episode of Cougar Town.

One look at the crowd and it’s obvious. First of all, it’s really hard to find someone acting like an idiot. Once in a while you get that former Northwestern football player who’s in town for homecoming and he and his frat bros thought they’d come see a show like they used to do back in the day. Most people are very well-mannered, just looking for a good time. The biggest commonality; they get it. They know the rules.

I looked around earnestly trying to find someone wearing a Furs concert tee. Not a one. In fact, I couldn’t find an Echo and the Bunnymen, Roxy Music, Talking Heads or any other historically relevant band apparel on a soul. Everyone was dressed normal. Like you would going out to the movies, shopping or dinner. You’d have had no idea they were going to be singing and dancing, sweating like teenagers in gym class, at the front of the stage later that night.

I don’t exactly feel like I’m a teenager again, but I can have fun and dance in my personal space and sing along with the songs (no one can hear me because it’s so loud up front). In fact, everyone around me knows the lyrics too, and I can’t hear them, so it’s not like any of us are ruining the show for one another. It actually adds to the experience. The bass player, Tim Butler, encourages the interaction. He never sings but mouths all the words as he leans into the crowd, mimicking the vocals of his lead singing brother, Richard.

The venue is an important factor, too. With capacity for 1,400 standing patrons, The Vic Theater is intimate and has great acoustics. Not that I’m going to be able to enjoy them. I love to be up close. On the rail if I can. And I know the show won’t sound as good as it would were I back about 20 feet. Essentially I’m going to be hearing the concert through the stage monitors and the one amp that’s closest to the floor. And I pay a price. This time, it was my left ear. It started to clear up on Sunday and did stop finally ringing by Monday afternoon.

Was it worth it? Yep. Not only do I get to see the band up close, but, more importantly, I’m with the fans who want to be there the most. The ones who, like me, have been to countless shows and totally get what it’s all about, coming to see a band that’s been playing essentially the same songs for 30 years. I enjoyed the show. One of the best I can remember. In the pit you meet real fans of the band and because we were at the show when doors opened I had plenty of time to get to know some “pre-friends.”

As much as I got what I wanted from the experience I doubt the concert will impact me as much as it did James, a 43-year-old fan seeing his first Furs concert.  Dude was very excited for the show. Bummed that Juliana Hatfield cancelled at the last minute and indifferent about the Lemonheads.

He was there for the headliners anyway. He never once moved from his spot on the rail. After the show he got one of the coveted set lists from a roadie. The look on his face must have been what Roald Dahl imagined for Charlie when he first saw the golden ticket inside that second chocolate bar. Good for him.

Yeah, I brought my earplugs. No, I didn’t use them. I gave them to Lisa, who looked to be in way more sonic pain than I was. Shame on her if she didn’t use them, and they were pink, too. No worries I told her. “Brand new.” I always bring a new pair to each show.

She’d driven an hour into the city for the concert to see The Furs and catch up with her high school bestie, Cara, for the first time in two and a half years. Although I don’t think they called them besties at York High School in 1983, a Psychedelic Furs concert is still a great reason to see someone you haven’t hooked up with in a while. You can learn a lot during a set change.

Find your guilty pleasure. Contact your long lost bestie. Create your own experience. Just do me one favor: use the earplugs!


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One Response

  1. Cara

    October 19, 2012 2:01 pm

    Jason, you totally nailed the experience! What an amazing evening! Thanks for the shout out! Until the next Furs concert, take care!


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