The Psychedelic Furs' US breakthrough was an incongruous occurrence. Director John Hughes decided to name his 1986 Molly Ringwald vehicle Pretty in Pink after a crashing track on the British band's 1981 second album, Talk Talk Talk (Columbia Records). A defanged version of the song was recorded for the film's smash soundtrack and the group, which performs at Tarrytown Music Hall on January 17, suddenly found itself plucked from the shadowy post-punk underground to become an act that many would identify with the bouncy, Day-Glo mallscape of 1980s Gen-X America.
"The first album [1980's The Psychedelic Furs, Columbia], especially, is very dark, very moody," says bassist Tim Butler, who formed the band in London in 1977 with his brother, singer Richard Butler. "The stuff that framed our sound then was Roxy Music, the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, and, of course, the Sex Pistols. I can remember me and Richard lying awake at night in our bedroom at our parents' house, talking about the band we were going to start and who'd play what instrument. At first I was going to be the drummer. But then I found out drums were expensive." The confluence of Tim's flanged, murky bass, Richard's hoarse vocals and evocative lyrics, and Duncan Kilburn's haunting saxophone instantly set the outfit apart. "When we started, most of the other bands around were just kind of nihilistically thrashing. We couldn't really play, but we wanted to do something different. So we'd just get on stage and improvise for nine or ten minutes at a time. Basically, it was this beautiful chaos."
The band steadily beautified the chaos over the remainder of the decade, finding further mainstream success with the glossier Forever Now, Mirror Moves, and Midnight to Midnight (all Columbia), and having its biggest US hits with the MTV staples "Love My Way" (1982) and "Heartbreak Beat" (1987). Eventually, the Furs began to chafe at their pop envelope and made two less commercial (and less lucrative) sets, 1989's Book of Days and 1991's World Outside (both Columbia), before taking what became a nine-year hiatus. During the break, Richard led Love Spit Love for two albums, while Tim formed the likewise short-lived Feed. The group reunited in 2001 for a tour with the B-52s and the Go-Gos and have kept going ever since, last passing through the area in 2010. The band has ties to the Hudson Valley: Besides recording Forever Now in Woodstock, Richard Butler lives in Cold Spring and original guitarist John Ashton (no longer a member) is a Woodstock resident.
"It's great to still be playing this long after we started," says Tim. "The new lineup actually sounds even heavier than we did at the beginning, and we're doing a lot of songs from the first album. People come to see us now with their kids, and sometimes even their grandkids."
The Psychedelic Furs will perform at Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown on January 17 at 8pm. Tickets are $35, $40, and $50. (877) 840-0457; Tarrytownmusichall.org.