Music fans will always debate whether band reunions are a good or bad idea. Sure, it'd be great to see a favorite group from yesteryear back on a stage, but what if that band tarnishes its reputation with a sloppy cash-in? Fans got compelling arguments in either direction with debatable sets from Madchester maestros Happy Mondays and new wave gloomers the Psychedelic Furs at Philadelphia's the Trocadero Wed., Oct. 7. But before either revitalized '80s act could play, relative Canadian newcomers Islands had to face the unfortunate task of opening.
Pity Islands; their set of retro dance-pop wasn't too bad, and certainly demanded more attention that it garnered. Five devoted Islands fans remained at the front of the stage, while everyone else in the Troc hit up the venue's upper and lower bars, although applause was polite throughout. Still, frontman Nicholas Diamonds put on a brave face and tried to give a good show to his fans, dancing with each one individually (well, the females anyway). Once the band exited, a wave of Happy Mondays fans flooded the floor.
While the crowd seemed pleased by HM's hour-long set, I had to wonder why. Maybe it's because they were drunk and I wasn't, but there was something a little sad about watching bloated, incomprehensible frontman Shaun Ryder mumble and stumble his way through obnoxious, sloppy dance jams while middle-aged guys with dreads bobbed and swayed. And they didn't even play "24 Hour Party People"! Still, the piano line of set-ender "Step On" is an infectious bit to behold, even though Ryder kept forgetting the song's best part (it's when he shouts "You're twistin' my melon man!" for no particular reason, by the way).
It's harder to judge the Psychedelic Furs. Personal bias aside (I was there for them. Have you heard Talk Talk Talk, ya'll?), the group gave me plenty of reasons to both enjoy and question their reunion. At 53, frontman Richard Butler is still a great dancer, and he seemed genuinely happy to be performing in Philadelphia. He spends so much time scowling on his album covers that it's surprising his smile could be so warm. Though the set started off a little out of key with "Love My Way," the band soon settled into a groove, performing mostly selections from their pop years. Sometimes it paid off ("Forever Now," "No Easy Street," and "President Gas" from Forever Now sounded awesome) and sometimes it didn't (pretty much anything post-Mirror Moves).
The two songs that got the biggest reactions were, of course, hits "Pretty in Pink" and "Heaven," with the crowd's voices on the latter nearly drowning out the band. A personal highlight was hearing saxophonist Mars Williams hit an otherworldly solo during "Sister Europe," from the Furs' self-titled debut, although I was heavily disappointed not to hear "Mr. Jones" or "Into You Like a Train" from Talk Talk Talk. What I got instead were competently played, homogenous fare, which revealed why the Furs broke up in the first place -- they eventually ran out of ways to write songs about pretty girls in bad situations. Still, it was neat hearing songs like "The Ghost in You," "She is Mine" and "Heartbeat" live.
I left the Trocadero feeling vaguely pleased by the Psychedelic Furs. I mean, it's always exciting to see a band you never thought you'd get a chance to see. But there was this lingering disappointment over how much the songs blurred together after a while, over the audio mix, over how many times people bumped into me on the way to and from the bar, and over the feeling that I had to sit through two lackluster opening acts to even get that far. I suppose I wasn't the intended audience -- I've only been a fan for a couple of years; the rest of the crowd probably a couple of decades. In the end, I can say I heard "Pretty in Pink" live, and I guess that's cool enough. Reunion justified.