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Psychedelic Furs, the Church revive the sounds of the ’80s at Crossroads KC show

Lead singer Richard Butler and the English rock band Psychedelic Furs performed Thursday at Crossroads KC.
Lead singer Richard Butler and the English rock band Psychedelic Furs performed Thursday at Crossroads KC. Special to the Star

Richard Butler will turn 60 on his next birthday, but he performs with the campy enthusiasm of a man half his age.

Thursday night at Crossroads KC, he led his band, the Psychedelic Furs, through a 90-minute set that mined a catalog that goes back 35 years. And though Butler has performed many of these songs for decades, he sang them all with gusto, punctuating each one with dance moves or hand and arm gestures: wagging a finger, miming a tightrope walk, bouncing as if on a pogo stick, shaking his hips, dropping to his knees as if bowing in reverence. He also greeted fans up front with hand slaps and high fives.

The Furs are touring as a six-piece band that includes Butler’s brother, bassist Tim Butler, also a man in constant motion; the very animated and demonstrative saxophonist/clarinetist Mars Williams; and keyboardist Amanda Kramer, who, from her perch at the back of the stage, seemed to preside over the show like a judge in a courtroom.

The set list drew songs from all but one of the band’s seven studio album, including its most recent, “World Outside,” released in 1991. It was stocked with favorites, like “Heartbeat,” which opened the show, “Heaven” and “Love My Way.”

Richard Butler still sings in a grizzled growl and in a thick British accent. He can’t sustain the high notes like he used to, but there were few of those to navigate. For most of the show, he and the band played the songs the way they recorded them and the way most people in the crowd of about 700 remember them — a sound rooted in the 1980s and the early days of MTV.

A lack of variety in their style of songwriting contributed to a few bouts of sameness that settled into the set, especially when they were performing lesser-known songs. But those spells were inevitably broken by a song everyone was waiting to hear, like the wistful “The Ghost in You” and the stormy “Heartbreak Days.”

The encore comprised two of those lesser-known songs: “Sister Europe,” from their self-titled debut album, and “Sleep Comes Down,” which ended in a cacophonous storm of guitars, percussion and keyboards. The real finale came at the end of the first set, when they performed “Pretty in Pink,” a song that still holds up 30 years after its release and that still evokes memories of the John Hughes film that took its name. Stoked by the crowd’s reaction, Butler sang that one with even more vigor, like he hadn’t heard it in years.

The Church: A large portion of the crowd was in place to see the opener, the Australian band the Church, contemporaries of the Furs who developed a substantial cult following in the 1980s.

Performing as a five-piece led by bassist and lead singer Steve Kilbey, they re-created some of the dreamy, psychedelic sounds that attracted attention from outside their homeland, like “Under the Milky Way” from their fabled “Starfish” album (Kilbey strummed a 12-string on Thursday for that one), and the lovely “Metropolis,” from 1990’s “Gold Afternoon Fix.” “Reptile,” another “Starfish” track, was another highlight.

Perhaps to establish their recency if not their relevancy, they closed with “Miami,” a blustery track from “Further/Deeper,” the album they released in October 2014. As the song drew to a close, a crew started tearing down the Church’s gear as Kilbey, carrying his bass over his shoulder like a musket, marched across stage like a sentinel. It was all staged but was a worthy ending to a set from a band that has always deserved more respect and attention than it has earned.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

SET LISTS

Psychedelic Furs: Heartbeat; Mr. Jones; Heaven; There’s a World; Love My Way; Little Miss World; Until She Comes; Susan’s Strange; The Ghost in You; Only You and I; Wrong Train; Heartbreak Days; Danger; Pretty in Pink; Sister Europe; Sleep Comes Down.

The Church: Block; Reptile; Toy Head; Metropolis; The Disillusionist; Laurel Canyon; You Took; Under the Milky Way; Miami

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