Peter Murphy doesn't want to be called the Godfather of Goth. At least that's what he told New Times in a recent interview. The only thing is, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more adequate title for the former Bauhaus frontman.
The inimitable Murphy hit Grand Central this Tuesday, bringing a legion of fans both old and new into the fold for a night of blackened rock hooks and operatic croons. Along with South Florida locals Astari Nite and Austin alt-rockers My Jerusalem, a hard-hitting barrage of riffs was the order of the evening at the eclectic downtown venue.
The crowd arrived in droves and gratuitously obliged the acts with nodding heads and shaking hips to driving rhythms and noise-laden guitar swells that emanated from the speakers.
Opening the show was self-described darkwavers Astari Night. A familiar presence in the Miami alt scene, the band shares more than a little of Murphy's genetic formula. Driving, near-mechanical drums pushed walls of dense guitar in a way that references Murphy's recent solo efforts, spiced up with a dash of arena-tinged theatrics.
The band's lines of squiggly, call-and-response guitars and frontman Mychael Ghost's low-end bellow recalled a digitized Interpol, and its drum-machine textures evoked industrial-minded peers like Cold Cave. The band's blend of new-wave hooks and tried-and-true goth accoutrements was enjoyable enough, if not overwhelmingly distinct.
Next up was Austin-based My Jerusalem, which continued in the gothic vein while sounding a bit more Southern-fried. The guitars seemed content to drip instead of blast, lending the set a measured, rollicking punch that relied more on momentum than singable moments.
But make no mistake: This is a collection of groups reaching heavily for the "big chorus," the revelatory moment where a song turns from a glistening sprawl into something entirely different. They succeed in varying degrees, but the energy and catharsis of the best moments seem too reined-in by pop structure to really hit home.
The crowd collected stage center as Murphy's band began to set up, clearly the focus of the evening. It established itself from the outset as a pounding, metabolic beast, taking a breath for slow-burning ballads like "Gaslit," with Murphy belting out the melancholic refrain, "I am going to temporarily leave my dreams/for a happy ending." Though most of the subject matter is morose, the band delivered ample throb and bombast to plaster smiles on the faces of even the most stalwart goth.
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If a complaint can be leveled against Murphy's recent songwriting, it would be from the same Bauhaus devotees who slightly shunned his more pop sensibilities at the beginning of his solo career. While his former band swung wildly from wrenching industrial grind to sprawling, Krautrock-infused experiments, Murphy's solo material doesn't have quite the breadth of those early recordings, arguably still his least commercial work.
His signature harmonic yowl is in as fine a form as ever, though, and dapperly dressed, he makes an elegant case for aging gracefully after, y'know, inadvertently fathering an entire genre. Bela Lugosi may be dead, but Murphy's singular vision lives on.
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