It was a capacity crowd of '80s refugees that filled Chicago's House of Blues on April 27.
The cause: the latest reunion tour of one of that decade's most influential underground acts. With their merger of Andy Warhol-cool culture, punk noise and cynical poetic mystique, The Psychedelic Furs were one of the original "alternative" bands, before that term was so muddied as to become synonymous with pop music.
The band pulled the plug on itself nearly a decade ago, and singer/songwriter Richard Butler released two albums with fellow Fur (and brother) Tim Butler as Love Spit Love in the '90s. But last summer the two Butlers reunited with dazed-distortion guitar master John Ashton, (and some help from Love Spit Love members) to do a summer tour. The band has since been working on new material (an album is in the offering) and played three shows last week in support of a new Greatest Hits album at House of Blues. Butler's tight-lipped, flowing clothes androgyny of the past was replaced by a smiling, cheery, black jacket wearing image this time around (though he did sport a string of pearls). That grin was one of the only marks that this was a reunion show, and not a concert from the band's heyday when Butler's demeanor was far more distant. At the start of the show, Butler seemed both amused at the success of his weakest lyrics and at the same time genuinely happy to be singing them for an appreciative crowd. The band pulled out stools for a three-song acoustic segment featuring the rarely played "Imitation of Christ" from their first disc, and Butler apologized at the outset as he pulled out a lyric sheet to help him get through the song (it HAS been awhile!).
This is a band that's truly glad to be back … and the fans are glad to have them.
When Phillips was 14, he formed Toad the Wet Sprocket, named after a Monty Python bit and without a clue that this band would define his life for the next 13 years and end up releasing six albums and scoring five inspirational rock radio hits.
At 31, Phillips is now solo, Toad having quietly run its course as its members grew from high schoolers to men with families. But the lessons in songwriting Phillips learned in Toad are in full evidence on his first solo release.
The sound on Abulum is more stripped back than Toad's releases, focusing on Phillips' voice, words and guitar — and the songwriter delivers. Phillips' best known songs have always had some element of spiritual searching to them, from Toad hits like "Walk on the Ocean" to "All I Want," and on Abulum he offers "Sleep of the Blessed" and the slow drummed "Darkest Hour."
If you have a hankering for strong, sometimes deceptively "quiet" songs with humor and wisdom, seek out Abulum. Phillips' pen – and voice – are hard to beat. Also check his Web site: www.glenphillips.com.
(Phillips will be at Chicago's Park West on May 10.)