Peter Murphy at House of Blues in Anaheim
Review by Scott Cahill, Special to LAist
Monday nights aren’t normally supposed to be notable. You’re supposed to go to work and catch up on the paperwork that you slagged off Friday afternoon and do your best to wear your stoic face, knowing you’ve got four more days of it. Maybe that’s why Monday night’s show at the Anaheim House of Blues featuring Peter Murphy proved to be a paradox.
I entered just in time to hear the last three or four songs from opening act Venus Infers. Normally one is inclined to berate and lambaste the opening act, but after hearing their upbeat, infectious, sharp-driving brand of power pop, I couldn’t help but think these 20-somethings from Orange County are going to be seeing some success in the not-so-distant future.
I hate to brand or otherwise label young bands, but if forced at gunpoint to encapsulate, I would say they’re one part the Strokes (when they were considered possibly the next great band), one part The Cramps sans fishnets and theatrics, one part classic bar band rock appeal and energy of the Faces and one part of the better upbeat catchy pop song that KROQ occasionally strikes gold with when they’re not playing Nirvana or the latest more effeminate than the last release by the Killers.
Digging a bit deeper, I learned they also opened up for Chris Cornell - not too shabby to be a talented young band learning some stage craft from Cornell and now Murphy. I just can’t help but think that Venus Infers is going to have at least one or two songs at a minimum that will start getting some regular airplay before the day is done. If there is room for the Kings of Leon, there is room for Venus Infers. I’m sure if Indie 103.1 were still in existence, Venus Infers may very well have been the house band.
The stage darkened and I flashed back to the mid 80s for a brief moment, before the Internet and Youtube, before TMZ and blogging. I remember when getting any information about a band that wasn’t mainstream meant sifting through independent record stores or Tower Records for the British mags for the dirt. You’d be considered lucky to find a fourth generation VHS bootlegged concert tape. You would buy a record and pray that the inner sleeve had some type of information on it. In the case of Bauhaus, that relative lack of information may have actually paid off. They were dark and mysterious to start with…knowing nothing about them actually served to enhance that effect.
Murphy took the stage and immediately went into some of his newer material that I admittedly was unfamiliar with. Up through the mid-90s I owned every Murphy release. Each album was solid for the most part and could be counted on to have at least one or two gems. “God Sends” and his cover of Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution” from his debut album are both fantastic, as were “All Night Long” and “Indigo Eyes” although I had many a friend who thought “Socrates the Python” to be the strongest track on the album. Murphy followed that up with his most accessible work and arguably his best known album with “Deep” and the mega hit “Cuts you Up.” Truth be told, I always preferred Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem” and “Strange Kind of Love.”
It was surprising to see the man who some refer to as the “Godfather of Goth” taking time to shake hands and make small talk with the crowd, asking people if they were having a good time and even giving the mic to people with an ever so gracious banter. This was a side of Peter Murphy I was most certainly unaccustomed to. At one point I could swear he asked someone in the crowd, “Weren’t you at the show the other night? I thought I recognized you.” I would have never thought the man known for dark, religious imagery….could be so friendly and endearing.
The evening took another strange turn when Murphy announced, “Here is an old song you might have heard” and went right into his cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” that he recently recorded for a commercial with JP Chase of all people. I certainly wouldn’t rule out the same bit being used to pitch the new Lexus in a year or two, it is so accessible and inviting. Peter Murphy, John Lennon, JP Chase - Never thought I’d type those three things in a single sentence and actually have them be related and coherent. It’s not a bad cover, mind you - it’s just surreal hearing Peter Murphy sing “We All Shine On” when your used to him singing “I get bored in the Flat Field.”
This was just the beginning of great things to come and really the momentum builder for the rest of the evening. Hearing him performing live, it dawned on me that Murphy has one most distinctive voices in music and could have made and legitimized any 80s band. That’s not to say his bandmates who went on to form Love and Rockets were slouches - but Murphy’s voice is as recognizable as Michael Stipe or Billy Corgan without being nearly as annoying, and nearing 50 years old being able to hit the notes with force and conviction is a true testament to his talent and vocal ability.
Delving into the deep catalog, Murphy busted out “Deep Ocean, Vast Sea” and while some would be disappointed with an artist being ultra-faithful to the recorded version, to think “Deep” was released almost 20 years ago and he can still bring the goods was fantastic.
But the twists kept coming and if the “Instant Karma” came out of nowhere, so did his cover of Roxy Music’s creepy “Every dream home a heart ache”. Making it all the creepier, Murphy sans band appeared onstage with a lone keyboard that at time sounded very much like a 70’s era Moog and at others like a Theremin, while singing Bryan Ferry’s twisted love song to an inflatable doll. This was one of the few moments Murphy managed to bring back the “Godfather of Goth” from the mothballs, with it being a continuing theme (hence the tour name “Secret Cover”) as guitarist Mark Thwaite broke out the opening riff to Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” and Murphy selling it with every ounce of energy he could muster from his aging 50-year-old frame. Trent Reznor and Murphy have worked together recently in a brilliant cover of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” that is a must see. Reznor went on record to say Bauhaus was a huge influence on him and hearing Murphy’s rendition gave one the feeling it would have fit right in with “Crowds” and “Hollow Hills.” Reznor and Bauhaus - it all makes perfect sense.
There were still some fantastic moments during the encore as Murphy donned an acoustic 12-string guitar and delivered a heart-wrenching version of “Strange Kind of Love” in his distinct inimitable baritone. Bassist Jeff Schartoff came back on stage to play the haunting main riff on the upper register of his bass, sending melancholic shivers up the spines of many in attendance. I thought it couldn’t get any better, and as usual I was proved wrong as they segued seamlessly into the classic Bauhaus track, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, using the same chords and rhythm and mood. To see “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” played acoustically was well worth the price of admission alone. The song that’s always a staple come Halloween was somehow transformed into a torch song. . . unexpected, inspired, and brilliant.
More Bauhaus was on the way as the rest of the band came back onto the stage and fired up a frantic version of “The Passion of Lovers.” Looking at the crowd from the House of Blues upper floor I wondered if there could possibly be any other venue where an upbeat, edgy, energetic song like this would be met with a relative lack of audience excitement that only the OC could muster. I pointed out one guy wearing a polo shirt standing square in the middle of the floor with his hands in his pockets and looking bored - Guys like that have no business standing in the front.
The energetic encore of twists and turns ended with Murphy’s own spin on one of Bowies classics, making it very much his own but what else would you expect from Murphy? I went in expected to see an aging man give an aging performance of his greatest hits for the almighty dollar and came out realizing I’d seen a truly underrated legend with one of the strongest live voices I’d ever heard, that made me want to go home and pull out every dusty CD of his that hadn’t seen the light of day. It made me remember that brief pre-Nirvana time in the 80s where dark and mysterious truly meant dark and mysterious in the form of little to no information about bands like Bauhaus and most photos coming in black and white, six to eight months later in British mags. It made me understand what it must have been like to catch Bauhaus in full force. It made me long for the days going to the independent record stores meant something….a day when the Jonas Brothers were yet to be conceived. It made me, for that brief moment in time, long for and remember the days of the one tall skinny goth kid in the back of the class amidst the crowd of day glo orange sweaters and “Frankie Says” t-shirts.
Murphy finished by giving us some of the old - and showed his prowess with some of the new from an album yet to be released or even named. Confident, charming and gracious - three words I never thought I could use to describe the man whose voice is forever ensconced in my memory for “Dark Entries” or “Terror Couple Kill Colonel” fame. A paradox for sure, but a completely surprising and most pleasing paradox at that.