Peter Murphy in Barcelona, Sala Bikini 4-10-2011

Been a while since I’ve done a music review. Used to be that I’d do loads of them, it was through gig and album reviews that I tasted *success* as a writer, both in monetary compensation and perks like free tickets, merchandise etc. For a time I entertained the thought of making a go of it as a career. Great fun for a few years but I became disillusioned with that kind of work after I realised that it’d become a boring process of regurgitating the same old words and phrases to describe a series of uninspiring (and largely uninspired) bands. Anyway, tonight that all changes, because I’m at a concert that I just have to write about, because I need to tell people how it makes me feel. Tonight I’m seeing Peter Murphy.

The beginnings of the night are somewhat inauspicious. The invited support is an American singer-songwriter called Michael Shapiro. Stands on stage with an acoustic guitar and constipated expression typical of the troubador of the more macho disposition. The type of genre at times described in certain critical circles as butt-rock, hunger-dunger-dang etc. A mix of macho maudlin sentimentality and sleaze. Not delivered without some technical flair, I have to admit, but the kind of meat and potatoes that’s served on the open mic nights at dive bars all over the world, gourmet or not. His stage banter was a weird kind of cheesy verging on creepy, taking photos of the audience and saying how he came looking for friends, and that he was going to tag everybody on facebook and add them.

Regardless, I stay at the front row. I’m not going to take the chance of spending this concert peeking between the shoulders of fuzzy haired tall people.  Sala Bikini is filling up and everyone is getting ready to play sardines. I find an acquaintance near the front and we chat for a while. Both of us are fans, and she mentions that she much prefers the music Peter’s solo career to that of his work in the seminal 80’s post-punk/goth/artrock band Bauhaus. I  mustadmit that while I’m a huge fan of both, Bauhaus as a band holds a special primacy in my heart.

The band enters and takes their places to raucous applause, and when Peter Murphy comes on, it erupts into howls of adoration. Having attended some concerts in Barcelona where such sanctified rock stars as Alice Cooper were greeted with what were to my mind rather tepid receptions, I am gratified that the crowd shares my enthusiasm. There’s an energy rippling through the room.

Pete’s no shy boy. He struts onto a stage that he was born to rule. He wears leather boots, sheer black trousers and a tight hooded sweatshirt. His eyes are lined black, his face sparkles with glitter. His body language is an optical illusion. Should you spot him relaxed out of the corner of your eye, as soon as you look directly at him his shape is thrown into apose, lunge or prance. He is Ziggy Stardust. Peter Murphy is a sexy, sexy old man. As proof that he was once an even sexier young man, I refer you to the following video as evidence:

God knows I’ve give a lot to look like Peter Murphy in his heyday, and when I perform on stage, to move like him. Now he’s getting on a bit but makes no bones about it.  His hair hangs birdlike in thin strands over the back of his head, he has a tiny paunch and middle age spread, and is not shy about pointing out his little flabby man-boobs to the crowd. No one cares. They shout for more. All the girls at the front take every opportunity to caress his legs and boots when he comes near. One particularly ecstatic woman never stops reaching for his crotch, ready to tear him apart in a dionysian frenzy of lust. Age doesn’t stop him from moving though. He thrusts and twirls like anything, and frequently reaches out to the audience, grasping our outstreched hands. But he’s not a king extending a hand for subjects to kiss, its not obsequious. He holds tightly, intensely. Something is being communicated.

His stage banter is charming in a dry, witty, very English way. Whether requesting lights or sound effects, or introducing songs, he is always unflinchingly polite, genuine and self-effacing. During the performance of ‘Black Stone Heart’ the Bauhaus song from their latest album ‘Go Away White’, he affects an exaggeratedly bored expression and complains of the tediousness of the song ‘I don’t like this song. It’s boring and too long.’ ‘What? It’s my song, and I don’t like it. We’re going to play a good song now’ (good song in question: beautiful Bauhaus number ‘All we ever wanted was everything’. And it is wonderful). Equally amusing are his protestations directed towards the screaming women (fair bit older than myself, quite a bit younger than him!), where he cups his flab in his hand and indicates his wedding ring ‘please, look, I’m married’.

All well and good Nico, so now we all know all about your man-crush on Peter Murphy, but how does he sound? You’re probably unsurprised to discover that I think he sounded awesome. Ok, actually he started out somewhat drowned out in the band’s sound for the first few songs until he sorted out some sound issues ‘Darling, I’m so sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know your name, but can we have less delay and more reverb on here please?’ ‘We don’t quite know what’s going on here because sometimes on the monitors everything sounds really shit, but usually this show is amazing‘ (the crowd enthusiastically confirms no need to worry, it is amazing as usual). Peter’s vocal style isn’t for everybody, it’s often somewhat flat and overwrought, especially on the old Bauhaus songs where the thinner singing style at times fails to project clearly over the band’s sound. But he still breaks out his trademark baritone howl that gets all the girls in mascara and hairspray a-tingling.

The setlist on paper had way too many songs to even fit in the concert, so I’m guessing that they’re picking parts of it as they go along. As an old school Bauhaus fan, I can’t complain. We get the spooky ‘Silent Hedges’, the rock and rolling ‘Dark Entries’, ‘All we ever wanted was everything’, ‘The Passion of lovers’ (one of my favourite songs in the world), the classic cover of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (Pete does a great Bowie stand in, channeling Ziggy like anything) and even a bit of the 80s goth anthem ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. It was more than I’d hoped for from a solo show and I’m really grateful for it. Highlights from his own albums include ‘I spit Roses’, ‘See Saw Sway’ ‘All Night long’, ‘Cuts you up’, ‘I’ll fall on your knife’ and ‘A strange kind of love’. aside from Ziggy there was another cover in the set, a version o Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’. Now I love this song and am also guilty of covering it myself, but ever since Johnny Cash’s version was released it seems like a whole slew of bands are putting out into their live sets. It’s become bigger than any artist, its an icon, an anthem now. It has to be done justice, and so I listened somewhat apprehensively. The version is good, and Peter Murphy is a superb singer  and shows off his chops, but something strikes me as off. Something about his cadence, the emphasis on certain words break up the flow of the song, resulting in something of a great but flawed version.

The haunting melancholy of the Bauhaus tracks plays an enchanting shadow to the mystic themes and more life-affirming, positive vibes of the solo songs. Songs that have been a constant part of my life for almost ten years. It’s sex and life and God and death. This is rock and roll with real heart and soul and despite the lack of space I can’t help but dance and jump about like a fool, and it looks like everybody else has caught on to the same idea. All around me crazed groupie wannabes are grinding and thrashing, grabbing onto his boots and not letting go. They come back for 3 encores. We’re left screaming for more.

It’s easily the best show I’ve seen all year, and I’m comparing memories of concerts past to find it if it makes the top ten of my life (jury’s still out, but good odds). All the way home my mind is still buzzing, my body fidgety with nervous energy. I lie in my bed, too turned on to sleep. All I want to do is make love.

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~ by theserpentscircle on October 6, 2011.

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