The Psychedlic Furs at Stern Grove, by Patric Carver
The Psychedelic Furs (photo: Patric Carver)

How do you mend a broken heart? That question seemed to be on the minds of many of the at-capacity crowd that filled Stern Grove last weekend for the eighth concert the summer in the Stern Grove Festival concert series. As concert-goers settled into their picnic tables, beach towels, and blankets, sorrowful statements about the mass shootings this past weekend punctuated serene atmosphere.

“Can you believe there was another one?”

“It makes you kind of think twice before coming to something like this.”

Though the mostly Caucasian crowd did not share the demographics of populations targeted this weekend, there was a noticeable alarm in the casual exchanges that hinted at, “What if something like that happened here?”

First act, James, addressed the tragedies head-on. Starting their set with the convulsing “Walk Like You,” frontman Tim Booth told the crowd that this was a warning to younger generations not to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps because “we’ve fucked it up so badly.” “Walk” grew legs in this extended live version, becoming as theatrical as any swelling film score I’ve ever heard.

Their second song, “Hank,” a song described by Booth as an “angry song” called out current politicians with lyrics like “the racist in the White House” and was modified to name the recent shootings in addition to Sandy Hook and Columbine. It was a grim reminder of the history of these types of shootings that are becoming more frequent and less sensational due to their commonality.At the conclusion of “Hank,” Booth remarked, “That ought to divide some people.”

He’s probably right, but judging by the crowd’s reaction, none of those people were present. If anything, it unified the crowd, giving someplace for their nervous energy and anxieties to live outside their worried minds for a moment.

It wasn’t all gloom and sorrow, though. In fact, most of the set was downright joyous. During “Come Home,” Booth journeyed deep into the crowd, climbing on the rocky steps to dance with audience members. Host Liam Mayclem said he’d never seen anyone do that in this years of emceeing the festival. “Laid,” a staple of parties during my college years, was sung with enthusiasm by Booth and hundreds in the crowd.

James’ performance throughout the entire set was engaging and seemed to celebrate many different facets of these difficult times in which we’re living. Celebrating our freedom to oppose, our privilege to ban together, and our collective moments of bliss sparked by the right song played at the right time.

After a brief intermission, the Psychedelic Furs followed and managed to match the energy of James’ set. Kicking off with “Love My Way,” the band seemed to fall into the song as precisely and comfortably as one falls into their own bed. Vocalist Richard Butler practically yawned his way into the opening line, demonstrating how second hand this life on stage has become for the Furs. It wasn’t a lazy performance, it was entrancing. If the radio broadcast of this song is dreamlike, this live performance was dipping into some real rapid-eye-movement-type slumber.

Other highlights from the set included, “Mr. Jones” with its beautiful, grindhouse sax and crowd favorite “Pretty In Pink.” The crown jewel of the set, though, was the closing song, “India,” that was absolutely feral. Wild and captivating, the sax in this song was like a whistling tea kettle, the drums were the soundtrack to a panic attack, and Butler’s voice wrapped us all up in the frenzy. They say some people are born old souls. I don’t know what kind of man Butler is personally, but even as a young man, his voice was as ancient as the seas and continues to stand the test of time.

So, back to my original question: how do you mend a broken heart?

I’d like to say that the revelry of an event like the Stern Grove Festival can allow us to stitch up the sorrows, the injustices, and the inhumanities that we’re living through, but I think we all know that’s fiction. As people packed up their things and checked their phones for the latest news, reality set back in. It was a privilege to exist in a space where our current state is escapable — even for a couple of hours.

I think the answer is more complicated — we’ve got to have collective moments sharing music and food and moments together to give us strength, to replenish us, to allow us to survive as our wounds continue to bleed. When we work to make things better, I might have a different answer. Right now, though, our broken hearts are going to have to continue to bleed.