At least the Lemonheads and Psychedelic Furs had one thing in common Sunday night at First Avenue: Neither made their fans wait through new material before getting to the oldies. Both of the poppy alt-rock era bands pretty much stuck to their respective greatest-hits albums in their set lists, and the couple deeper cuts they each threw in were equally dated. The otherwise seemingly random pairing was purely a nostalgia trip, which certainly suited the pretty narrowly defined, three-quarters-full crowd that showed up – nearly all folks of the age to have seen John Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink” in theaters, not just VH1 airings.
The similarities between the two bands pretty well stopped there, though.
LEMONHEADS: In the Boston-reared trio’s hour-long opening set, frontman (and sole original member) Evan Dando showed all the personality and earnestness of a wood chip. His singing often sounded just as flat, which he humorously admitted to -- and found a culprit for – in his only bit of between-song banter mid-set. “I’m having trouble because I stopped smoking,” he said (wait, shouldn’t he have… ah, never mind).
Some of the band’s poppiest ditties also suffered from the noticeable absence of Juliana Hatfield, Dando’s fellow early-’90s hitmaker and ex-girlfriend. Hatfield was supposed to be on tour with Dando as bassist and co-vocalist this time but inexplicably canceled last week. One couldn’t help but think how much better “Great Big No,” “It’s About Time,” “Drug Buddy” and several others would’ve sounded with her input (she sang in them on record, too). Apparently, finding a replacement bassist who could also sing a little harmony was too much to ask on such short notice. The 22-year-old-looking fella who did pick up the bass duties otherwise did just fine, and Dando hit his stride in some of the feistier/rockier numbers, including “Style” and the set-closing “Rudderless.”
PSYCHEDELIC FURS: With their coolly detached gloom-pop sound and arty Englishmen flair, one might have forgiven the 80s vets had they also performed without any charisma. Au contraire. Frontman Richard Butler took the stage looking as fit and animated as he’s ever been, dancing around his microphone stand and dramatically gesturing to the crowd alongside his equally earnest-looking brother, bassist Tim Butler -- two British rock siblings who actually get along, it seems (and it shows). With saxophonist Mars Williams their only other longtime member, the Butlers also might have forgiven had their made-over band simply sounded passable. Sunday’s six-piece lineup even featured different backers from their First Ave show two years ago. Turned out, though, they were better than that lineup, and as solid as the band has ever sounded.
Starting with “Only You and I” and “Love My Way,” the Furs fired up the crowd right away and never really let things simmer down. They sounded especially psychedelic and electric on “Mr. Jones” before coolly sliding into two mellower faves, “Heartbreak Beat” and “Ghost in You,” for the first two big sing-alongs of the night. “Pretty in Pink” arrived three-quarters of the way through the 90-minute set, lightened up musically with jazzy sax fills and lit up visually with (you guessed it!) pink stage lights. “Heaven” closed out the set pre-encore before the band came back and grinded its way through “President Gas.” The Furs didn’t just outshine their tour partners on Sunday, they put most bands of their nostalgic Gen X-era ilk to shame. Yes, Jesus & Mary Chain, I'm looking right at you.