Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Better than: Dalis Car live.
It was nice seeing Peter Murphy channel some of the primal strangeness of Bauhaus, even though all his original cohorts were probably somewhere in England, sipping their tea and not giving a shit.
The music will exist, and it came quite alive on the Grand Central stage last night, thanks to a self-deprecating and enthusiastic performance by Murphy and his longtime backing trio.
My Jerusalem warmed up the air with a stalking sort of sound that pandered to the gothic atmosphere. Frontman and guitarist Jeff Klein sang in a growling baritone about "creatures of the night" and a "blood red moon," and it all felt a tad cliché. At least by its fourth track, the band from Austin came into its own with a driving sound that finally got the crowd moving and one guy started fist-pumping. Keyboardist Jon Merz would take extra guitar duties and horns. He even performed a trombone solo on the final number.
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After a pause for a change of equipment on stage, Murphy's backing band (guitarist Mark Thwaite, bassist Jeff Shartoff, and drummer Nick Troy Lucero) walked on and picked up their instruments to polite applause. The DJ faded out the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," which no one in the room seemed to care to dance to. And with that 1987 bastard goth hit single fading, here was some true gothic music: the reigning overlord, Peter Murphy. He walked out to a roar of applause in a blue leather jacket that looked like the top part of a stillsuit from David Lynch's Dune.
To the strum of an acoustic and the thud of the drum and tambourine, Murphy sang the entrancing chant of "King Volcano" backed by Thwaite and Shartoff: "Overshadowed by her sister/Pretty girl would scream/King volcano gave me numbers/King volcano is clean." The slow fade-in of the song on record was replaced by on/off vocals and a microphone lacking dynamic range. The song ended on a rougher note with a long screech of feedback that ruined what would have made for an interesting opening. The later-era, more melodious Bauhaus period song segued to a similar moment, another acoustic guitar-led piece, "Kingdom's Coming."
The second song reeked of desolation and ruin in its own somber way. Murphy's voice sounded well-preserved as he crooned, "Madness in the wind's got something to say/It ripped you apart/It will always be that way" before shifting to a chattering that ended with a creepy, brief a capella phrase, "Sky will open," delivered as a deadpan statement. Next, the rumble of one of the more aggressive Bauhaus songs shook the stage: "Double Dare." From crooner to throat-lacerating snarler, Murphy's voice was out to do justice to these sumptuous songs. His voice remained downright vicious for a rollicking "In the Flat Field" that followed.
He finally spoke to the crowd after this song, saying, "With these songs, it's difficult to say thank you very much because you have to be listening." Then it was on to another vicious, early Bauhaus number, "A God in an Alcove." Often, Murphy would press a small tubular LED light on his face and make faces. His goofy "Now I am silly" face had a sinister look as he bathed his face in light in shadow, like some Gremlin caught peeking up from the cracks of the floorboards in a decrepit mansion.
The crowd ate it up, pawing at his outstretched hand; one guy even took the mic from Murphy during the closing "Going to hell again" chorus of "Silent Hedges" to yell some garbled statement as the song came to a pathetic end. Murphy yanked the mic back from this sacrilege and chastised him for ruining a song he had introduced as "This a very beautiful song." "That's some bad singing," Murphy said, giving the fellow the stink eye.
After a morose and dreamy "All We Ever Wanted" arrived "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and the iPhones went up (look to YouTube for at least six shitty versions of this song with other iPhones in front of them). Murphy donned glasses to noodle with some knobs on a small keyboard for the extended instrumental intro. As the song meandered to its climax, Murphy turned his back to the crowd and hunched over to flap his arms in slow, undulating motions and then sang the big closing chorus "Oh, Bela/Bela's undead!" to the back corner of the stage.
It was strange to watch Murphy perform these songs as a solo artist, and many members of the crowd I spoke to after the show agreed something was amiss. The convulsive guitar of original Bauhaus ax man Daniel Ash was hard to substitute. His playing was downright restless and spastic, similar to the shifting tones Murphy delves into with his voice: a sometimes zombie-entranced monotone to screaming hellfire demonic. Murphy's voice sounded unchanged by age. But not too many in the crowd, which packed in at about 600, seemed moved.
After an unrelenting encore of one song melting into the next, the band walked off with hardly a bow. A few in the crowd chanted for Murphy's solo hit "Cuts You Up," but they were soon drowned out by the fade-up of "Just Like Heaven." A moment had occurred. It was like a taste of the Bauhaus catalog had been placed on display in an aural museum. Quick, look. Strange, isn't it? Now it's gone. Carry on.
Personal bias: In the 20 or so years since I began listening to Bauhaus, the band's back catalog still has a charm worth revisiting.
The crowd: Goths of all shapes, sizes, and ages in their dandiest best to old, ratty Bauhaus T-shirts.
Peter Murphy's Setlist:
-"In the Flat Field"
-"A God in an Alcove"
-"All We Ever Wanted"
-"Bela Lugosi's Dead"
-"Too Much 21st Century"
-"Adrenalin/Be My Wife"
-"Passion of Lovers"
-"She's in Parties"
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Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.