The last few Meltdown festivals may have been a bit more low key than we’ve come to expect, whether due to leftfield/unanticipated choices of curator (see M.I.A. and James Lavelle) or slightly underwhelming line-ups (see those selected by Guy Garvey and David Byrne). For its 25th year however the choice of The Cure’s Robert Smith as curator felt like a return to the high profile, big statement events of previous years. Sure, in places it may be a little overly male and stand on relatively safe musical ground but it has undoubtedly been a very popular appointment, with a return to a classic alternative guitar-centred line up that has in the past served the Southbank so well.
In this context opening the festival with a show by The Psychedelic Furs seems a fitting choice. They share some similarities to The Cure in how they progressed through different phases and shone light on different corners of the 1980s (they’re often placed in the genre of post-punk/new wave but that’s always seemed an imperfect fit in some ways). It’s also clear that they have brought a loyal following to the Royal Festival Hall tonight. Support comes from Australian outfit The Church who play a set of gnarled, serviceable rock.
The Psychedelic Furs get off to a flying start with the rising synths of Dumb Waiters segueing into a frenetic, streamlined Into You Like A Train (the first of many tracks to be drive by the saxophone of Mars Williams). The looming, shadowy figures of Highwire Days follows before they launch into President Gas, all sliding, incisive guitars and sneering vocals, which results in fans leaving their seats to rush down to the front of the stage or gather in stairwells.
It changes the dynamic of the gig, creating a sort of stadium rock atmosphere inside the usually-hallowed environs of the Royal Festival Hall. They’re rewarded with the airy, light pop of The Ghost In You which, with its poignant melodic hooks, pulls gently on the heartstrings. In what becomes a trend during the show they follow soft with hard in the form of the buzzing guitars of Mr Jones. Frontman Richard Butler prowls the stage shaking hands with those gathered at the front, part Mick Jagger, part Ian McCulloch (he also perfects the ‘rock star of a certain age’ look – long coat and shades both conspicuous).
They continue with their crowd-pleasing trawl through their back catalogue. Sister Europe sees Butler’s voice at his most gravel-throated and battle-damaged, Heartbreak Beat has big, classic rock polished choruses and their synth-powered hit Love My Way soars high. Angels Don’t Cry offers an example of the vulnerable core that many of their songs are built around (although like some others is in danger of being overtaken by the dominant saxophone).
Heaven sees them at their most poignant, a spine tingling closer to the main set. They return to play an encore that features their defining moment Pretty In Pink, sounding insidious and domineering as ever, wrapped up in guitar riffs. Later shows in the festival may bring things more up to date musically, but this was a successful and enjoyable blast of nostalgia with which to begin Meltdown.
The Psychedelic Furs played: Dumb Waiters, Into You Like A Train, Highwire Days, President Gas, The Ghost In You, Mr Jones, Sister Europe, Heartbreak Beat, No Easy Street, Love My Way, Only You & I, Don’t Be A Girl, Angels Don’t Cry, Imitation of Christ, Heaven Encore: India, Pretty in Pink, Forever Now