Music Preview: Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy tours with solo retrospective
June 19, 2008 4:00 AM
Peter Murphy will play the New Hazlett Theater Monday.
By Manny Theiner
With black lace-up boots and corsets being sold in Hot Topic mall outlets across the country, it's no laughing matter to carry the mantle of the Godfather of Goth these days. Yet that's the situation in which the deep-voiced, high-cheekboned Peter Murphy finds himself, 30 years after the release of the 1979 single considered to be the start of gothic rock, "Bela Lugosi's Dead."
Sure, there were bands who formed slightly earlier and were tagged as "gothic" by the British press -- Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, The Cure -- but "Bela," with its nine minutes of dub-laden, minor-key gloom and lyrics about virginal brides filing past the movie vampire's tomb, became the lyrical and thematic standard on which this subcultural wave emerged, carving its own niche in the post-punk scene and making its way to the States with seminal bands like Christian Death and 45 Grave.
Influenced primarily by '70s glam acts like T. Rex and David Bowie, Bauhaus' tendency to rise from coffins onstage and drive around in a hearse gave birth to the Batcave movement in the UK, and after "Bela" spent nearly two years on the country's indie charts, it went on to record four albums and cement a loyal fanbase before breaking up in 1983. Guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer David Haskins went on to form Love and Rockets, known for the hits "No New Tale to Tell" and "So Alive."
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Where: New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square, North Side.
More information: 412-320-4610.
Meanwhile, Peter Murphy had embarked on a solo career, and after a slow start, his early '90s output on the albums "Deep" and "Holy Smoke" produced a couple of modern rock radio hits.
Then out of the blue, Murphy, who was raised Irish Catholic, made a life-changing decision that probably explains why so many goth girls these days are interested in whirling dervishes and bellydancing. Murphy fell in love with a Turkish woman (his wife, Beyhan, leads a modern dance company) and became fascinated with Sufi mysticism, soon converting to Islam and moving to Ankara, where he lives today.
When Murphy fell back into the Bauhaus fold for its 1998 "Resurrection" reunion tour he kept his religious obligations by refusing to perform some of the classic goth anthems that he regarded as blasphemous.
"Holy Smoke" already showed traces of Middle-Eastern influence, but when he discovered the music of Sufi-inspired Turkish techno producer/Montreal resident Mercan Dede in a pile of CDs that his wife was listening to for her troupe, Murphy offered to collaborate with Dede immediately. The result was 2002's "Dust" on goth staple Metropolis Records, an album that straddled East and West with elements of trance music, prog-rock, classical and pop, and thoroughly confused longtime Murphy fans.
"I wanted to ... bring in some of the flavours that I was hearing here in Turkey," he told the Web site Postwave, "and I think that worked really well, and there were some beautiful songs on it."
Despite his world music inclinations, Murphy returned to the pop arena for his 2004 release "Unshattered," touring the U.S. with members of darkwave icons The Mission U.K. and Skinny Puppy in his band. It also became clear how much of an influence he and Bauhaus exerted on the second generation of goth-industrial artists: Nine Inch Nails took their boyhood heroes on tour in 2006.
Recording brand new material, Bauhaus released its first album in 15 years, "Go Away White," in March. Listening to the finished product, it's obvious that there were differences pulling the results in several directions. Some tracks sound like Love and Rockets, others resemble Murphy's pop material, and there are a few flashes of Bauhaus' abrasive brilliance, as well as an outright nod to Bowie.
But a tour to promote this record was simply not to be. Despite getting along during the initial recording, Haskins mentions only that "an incident" that occurred. And since the other three members of Bauhaus are still planning to play Lollapalooza as Love and Rockets, one can only assume that the instigator was Murphy.
"In any group, there are constant incidents, so what?" Murphy responded in his Myspace blog. "Committing to a band takes tolerance, love and a massive commitment. If I'd let some disagreement ... distract me from the goal, then I'd have to question my integrity. There is no love where there is no love."
So Bauhaus now rests in the grave, but one place where Murphy knows there will be lots of love is on his solo "Retrospective" tour, which stops here Monday. He'll be mining his entire career for material, drawing on both old and new Bauhaus songs and his solo oeuvre.
Some early West Coast dates were cancelled due to Murphy coming down with a stomach virus, but he seems determined to continue on with the rest of the shows. Well-wishers for Murphy's health should regale in the intimacy of being only 20 feet away from the singer who realizes best that -- like Billy Corgan says -- the world really is a vampire.
Manny Theiner is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.