Not Just the Ticket — #3, Peter Murphy, March 9, 1990

Peter Murphy, March 1990

Then-current album: Deep

Opening act: Human Drama

Back of ticket ad: Pirate Radio 100.3 FM, jagged blue lettering on a black background, a font of the sort that is out to convince you that it is edgy and streetwise because it’s seemingly created by a combination of paint swipes and claw marks.

More of the same in terms of look and printing and all that — little wonder I assumed that tickets would always look like this after a time, right down to that pale blue color.

The nearly-a-year separation between New Order and this show covered a lot of personal ground. I went home after my freshman year for one last long extended stay at home that summer, mostly being lazy. (I think I mowed the lawns when it came to any summer money.) Then it was back to UCLA to move into the apartment that would be where I’d live for the rest of my time there, three years straight. Four people in the apartment, two each per bedroom, Rick and I splitting one room — we’d met in the dorms the previous year and hit it off, a friendly, intense fellow — and John and Mark in the other, a typical enough college housing setup. New classes, new friends like Xana, settling more into things, getting to know folks at the radio station all that much more, like Steve M. and Eric J. L., and getting to know the radio station itself more as it goes. I’ve heard the show tapes I made and they’re amusing curios.

Kept missing shows, though — in fact, I missed two shows that summer of 1989 that I kept constantly kicking myself over for years. There was the Love and Rockets show, headlining at the apex of their fluke hit fame that year thanks to “So Alive,” which I think I might have had a ticket for but just couldn’t get to, for reasons unclear to me. Then later they came back and were on another bill — performing with the Pixies, both opening for the Cure at Dodger Stadium. A show to die for, except I was dying by inches because due to whatever plans had been drawn up, I was in San Diego when that show went down. Then a couple of days later I was in Los Angeles and the Cure were in San Diego. I freely admit to being in agonies for a long time after that point, because I was still young and unaware enough to realize that Robert Smith’s claim that this would be the band’s last tour was not so much an immutable statement of fact as it was his standard response every time they were out on tour. Love and Rockets, however, wouldn’t release another album for five years and I thought I would never see them…but that’s another story for another time.

The fact that I was distressed at missing Love and Rockets twice gave an indication where one of my biggest listening discoveries had been that year — I already knew about the band due to “No New Tale to Tell” but 1989 was when I finally put all the pieces together regarding the band’s backstory, not least their membership in Bauhaus backing lead singer Peter Murphy. So when, conveniently enough, Murphy released his own new solo album some months after Love and Rockets’ full breakthrough and himself scored a pop hit with “Cuts You Up,” it almost seemed like a natural progression — of course all the members of Bauhaus would eventually break big, that only seems fair! (Or so it seemed to me in my scaling of the twists of fate according to my then-current aesthetic criteria.)

That said I don’t remember what prompted going to the show, honestly — I’m pretty sure it was due to the friendship I’d formed with a fellow at the SRLF, Beau, yet another music obsessed character at that library. He’d mentioned he was going to the show and either I’d figured out tickets were still available or he’d mentioned it offhand. I may have missed Love and Rockets, I’m sure I thought to myself, but damned if I was going to miss the other guy!

Some venues impress themselves upon you when encountered for the first time with a certain force. The Wiltern Theatre, elegant and self-consciously a ‘theatre’ in the vaudeville/movie palace sense, made me think of bright lights and gilt paint — not quite an accurate portrait of the inside but not too far removed, something reinforced by the full seating on all levels, the sweep of the staircases, and the appearance of a fair amount of the concertgoers. For the first time I was in the midst of a full-on goth audience, however impacted by random outliers like myself, and I just remember one color even more than gold: black.

Beau was down on the floor of the venue, having picked up his ticket right off the bat. When I had purchased my ticket I ended up getting one of the last ones available, and for my pains found myself perched right against the back wall of the mezzanine, the worst row of the seats in the entire theatre. The only way to view the stage when everyone in front of you was on their feet — and they were, most of the time — was not merely to stand yourself, but to stand on the seat. Quite why the hell I wasn’t busted for that I don’t know, maybe everyone else was doing it as well and there wasn’t any easy way security could have chased us all down.

I have another sense of chatting with my neighbors, comparing notes and saying hi and whatever else might be done in such situations. If anything it was a sign that I was starting to really feel more comfortable in different surroundings — besides such concert experiences, I think of lines on campus waiting to see movies or attend special events, like John Cleese picking up the Jack Benny Award, and similar conversations and situations. I can just remember the faces, just, the tones of voice and some of the subjects — the part of me that was always pretty social was starting to really feel like some sort of turning point had at last been reached.

This particular show by Murphy was one of a three night stand at the venue, with different opening acts each night. Thin White Rope opened one night, touring for Sack Full of Silver; in later years I learned how much of a missed opportunity that was, to have not caught them at that time. Exene Cervenka did another night, would have been fun, no question. It was Human Drama that night, though, and it was a powerful show — I think I had picked up their full debut Feel by then and while its utter melodrama, lyrically and in Johnny Indovina’s singing, went well over my limits of taking it fully seriously — nearly everything else’s he’s done since has been much more intriguing and enjoyable, under a number of band names and guises — no question that it was still compelling in its theatricality.

Theatrical is the only word to describe Murphy himself as well, and probably for the first time in a rock concert context I gained a sense of what it was like to see a ‘performance’ in a broad sense of the word. But for me it was compounded by the unusual angle I was looking at the stage from — the rows of heads in front of me on the balcony that were nearby, then a gap more sensed than seen, then Murphy himself, observed from a somewhat high angle. Combined with his all-black outfit and his then-blonde hair, it almost hinted at the expressionistic, not quite Dr. Caligari but perhaps not so far removed. His backing band did a fine job but they’re just shadows in the mind in comparison, unsurprisingly.

Two moments stand out — the first was a break between the songs when Peter acknowledged what were some of the more intense female screams from the crowd. By that time I think I’d heard similar examples from the Bauhaus days on live tracks and read his amusement in an interview from that time at being described as ‘an alien sex god,’ so it wasn’t surprised that he worked with the whole spectacle in his own fashion, at one point offering up a chuckle, quick introductory comment and then an “OHMIGOD, PETER….AAAAAH!” in falsetto. Seeing how someone could both revel in the role and play it up a bit without missing a beat was something instructive.

The second was even funnier — at one point in the encore, he had an acoustic guitar on and started playing what turned out to be very familiar notes — David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” I remember thinking that this seemed a bit strange given all the constant Bowie comparisons he’d been alternately fighting against and working with throughout what I knew of his career. That made what happened all the more entertaining — the crowd was happily singing along, Murphy got to the “And may God’s love be with you” part…and then stopped, set aside the guitar and said something like “Well, that’s all I know.” Laughter and applause and into one or two more songs, I’m pretty sure.

I remembered thinking it was a pretty good show, and that it would be nice to see him again. As it turned out, this was an understatement.

3 Responses to “Not Just the Ticket — #3, Peter Murphy, March 9, 1990”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Those circumstances surrounding the “Space Oddity” partial cover sound utterly hilarious and classic. Gels with the sense of humor I’ve seen in Murphy the three or so times I’ve seen him during the ’00s. Would’ve loved to have seen the tour for Deep, though… LUCKY!

    • Ned Raggett Says:

      My friend ML, who managed Thin White Rope at the time, says that when they met him backstage he was really an impressive, friendly figure, and I’ve heard nothing but that since then. Interviewing and meeting him last year confirmed this!

  2. given Says:

    Finally BD makes his first appearance! Things are really starting to get interesting. Thanks, David S

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