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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

'80s weekend: Concrete Blonde, Psychedelic Furs tours

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Johnette Napolitano (left) of Concrete Blonde, and Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs.


Two pillars of '80s alt-rock, two anniversaries, two landmark albums. But don't worry, neither is jumping on the play-the-entire-album bandwagon. Not entirely.

"To do a whole album from start to finish on stage -- that idea bores me right away," says Johnette Napolitano, the brunette lead singer for Concrete Blonde. The band has kicked off a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of its album "Bloodletting." "We'll lean a lot on the 'Bloodletting' stuff, but we had a solid base of fans before that record. Like I'm going to go out and not play [the song] 'Still in Hollywood'? I don't think so."

The Psychedelic Furs are still touring after reuniting early in the new century, and this summer marks the 30th anniversary of that similarly dark, gritty band's self-titled debut.

Singer Richard Butler was surprised to hear that.

"Oh, wow -- you're the first person to mention that," he said in a phone interview during tour rehearsals in Miami. "I hadn't thought of it. We're playing dates in England doing all of [the 1981 album] 'Talk Talk Talk.' ... It was a suggestion by our manager. I figured, if we're going to play any of our albums whole, that would be it. It's where the sound that came to be known as our sound came together. But that's not what we're doing on the full tour. No way."

Ahead of shows this weekend in Chicago, the two veteran singers reflected on the past and why in 2010 it's still worth dredging up.

PSYCHEDELIC FURS with She Wants Revenge
8 p.m. Friday at Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $28.50; (800) 745-3000, metrochicago.com

CONCRETE BLONDE
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
Tickets: $29.50; (800) 745-3000, ticketmaster.com


'Twilight' of her career

Concrete Blonde was born in L.A., slithering out of the same scene that gave us X and sounding like a Goth take on the Pretenders. Their popularity peaked in 1990 with "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)" and the thudding ballad "Joey."

The anniversary tour is "a fluke," Napolitano says. "It's not like I looked at the calendar and said, 'Can't wait till [the song] 'Joey' turns 20!' I don't pay attention. People just kept calling and bringing it up. ... But here's the other thing: Vampires are hotter than iPhones now," she says, referring to the undead themes of "Bloodletting." "Jim [Mankey, guitarist] and I just said, why not do it? The difference is that there's nothing to promote, no pressure. It's not, 'Oh, how do we sell the record?' We already sold the record! That's why they want us to play. When that light went on, I realized this could be a helluva lotta fun."

Unabashedly intending to wallow in the music's vampire imagery -- Anne Rice was a new sensation when "Bloodletting" first hit, now Napolitano can ride the wave of "Twilight," "True Blood," etc. -- she says she at least still believes in it.

"I still like everything about it," Napolitano says. "I've been going through 20 years of lyrics, and I can still read them. That's the most important part. It's still me in there. And I'm a much better singer now, so we can tear it up a little. ... It still works at this age, you know? Devo tore up Coachella."


Grumpy old men

The Psychedelic Furs disbanded just as Concrete Blonde was hitting big. By then, they'd hit the top of several world charts with "Pretty in Pink," "Love My Way" and "Heartbreak Beat." Butler and his brother, Tim, formed a new band, Love Spit Love, and coasted through the rest of the century.

Butler is at peace, though, with howling the Furs' dramatic young angst while now in his 50s. "We were angry young men when we came out. That translates to grouchy old men now. Not a really good thing to be. But somewhere along the way it sort of changed. I can appreciate where I was coming from when I wrote them and still feel that way. I still believe what I'm saying, which is more than some can say."

And, bless their '80s hearts, they still tour with a sax player -- a Chicago boy, no less, Elmhurst's own Mars Williams.

Speaking of local boys, while his time with filmmaker John Hughes was limited ("Pretty in Pink" was re-recorded for Hughes' iconic teen movie), Butler remembers one anecdote of a Hughes film that wasn't to be: "During the making of that film, I remember John asking me to come around and watch a screening of it with him. At one point -- they're in the Chicago Art Museum, right? -- I found myself muttering, 'Oh, look at that Monet. Oh, and the Picasso.' He said, 'Wow, you know about that stuff?' He was thinking about making a film about the life of [painter Amedeo] Modigliani. He actually said, 'You'd be good for that.' I actually think he meant the role. [Laughs]"

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The Concrete Blonde show at the Vic was seriously one of the best live concert experiences I've ever had. I am in awe of Johnette's voice and stage presence. I'll remember the show for the rest of my life.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on June 10, 2010 9:00 AM.

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