July 5, 2014
Better than...not much
Peter Murphy suspected the fans had come for the hits on Saturday night at the El Rey. After all, the legendary 56-year-old singer played the oldies last year on tour, including those from his former band, Bauhaus.
But this time around, the emphasis was on his post-Bauhaus work. There's a lot of that — he recently released his 10th studio album, Lion — though it wasn't enough to keep the crowd's attention. But that isn't what made the holiday weekend stop in L.A. such a bummer.
The depressing part was watching the decline of a rock star happen right there on stage, inside a not-too-big venue with a not-so-packed crowd of former goth kids.
It's not that there was really anything wrong with the music. Murphy mentioned that his voice was "raw," but he was still able to emit a powerful croon.
His band — musicians who look like they grew up listening to Bauhaus — was tight. They were able to stray from the set list with finesse. Plus, his newer work is good.
But it wasn't enough to capture the attention of a crowd who discovered Bauhaus and his earlier solo work on cassette 25 or more years ago.
Go see any band that was big in the '80s or '90s and you likely won't hear a big fan response until they play the old songs. With Peter Murphy, though, "out with the old" became a kind of mantra for the night. "Don't scream at me or us because of my past," he said.
Later on, he said: "At the end of this, we are going to play a bit of Bauhaus," to which the crowd erupted in cheers. But eventually, the idle chatter in the back of the venue grew louder.
Murphy's banter was all over the place. He talked about "society's addiction" to things like material possessions in an aside that was obscured by the sound of the crowd. He explained the lyrics of his song "Memory Go" to be about letting go of the past.
"It doesn't actually work, because what has happened brought you to some place," he said. Was he talking about last year's incident in Glendale or the music? Who knows? In the midst of all this, the disconnect grew between performer and audience.
Murphy lamented being called the "Godfather of Goth," but those three words elicited another roar of applause. He sounded defeated when he closed that tangent with "Anyway, I love you all."
In the end, Murphy did play a couple Bauhaus songs, his song choices fitting with the theme of the night. In "Silent Hedges," he sang, "What happens when the intoxication of success has evaporated?"
The answer is probably something similar to Saturday night's show. Near the end, Murphy gave the band a choice between three lesser-known songs. Ultimately, he scrapped that idea and decided that they would close with two of Bauhaus' beloved cover versions, T. Rex's "Telegram Sam" and David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." The crowd loved it. Murphy finally looked like he was comfortable on stage.
Personal bias: I saw multiple Bauhaus reunion shows, so I didn't really care whether or not he played "She's in Parties." (He did.)
Random notebook dump: There are shows so upsetting that they sit heavy with you well after they end. This was one of those times.
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Set list below:
Approximate set list:
"Low Tar Stars"
"Peace to Each"
"Deep Ocean Vast Sea"
"Strange Kind of Love"
"Marlene Dietrich's Favorite Poem"
(Not sure what was played here)
"She's in Parties"