Not Just the Ticket — #6, Peter Murphy, August 7, 1990

Peter Murphy, Universal A.

Then-current album — Deep

Opening act — the House of Love

Back of ticket ad — once more, an invitation to partake of El Pollo Loco’s three piece combo, redeemable at participating restaurants only of course.

This turns out to be the first ticket not printed in the typewriter-style — looks more dot matrix than laserprinted from what I can tell — and as such is the first subtle sign than what I’d been used to from the world of tickets (or at least Ticketmaster tickets) was going to change. Just how much, I had no idea.

And so, this show. My first repeat show for an artist, any artist, up to that time, not just a few months after I’d last seen him, and literally two days after my brain being melted by the Depeche Mode overload. I’m actually surprised to realize that, looking at the ticket — somehow I had the impression that it was much later in the summer, but the evidence is clear enough. One heck of a good week there, at least.

If nearly every show I’d attended until now had some sense of basic anticipation about it, this one doesn’t ring as such for me. I already knew what I would be getting, I figured, so it wasn’t like I could be too surprised, necessarily. In fact I honestly don’t recall any particular prompt to attend the show besides a very obvious one — I’d already seen him, thought he was a great performer, really enjoyed his work and wanted to see him again. What more does one need?

Anticipating a little here, but I’m not surprised that it was Murphy who ended up being the artist I’ve actually seen the most over all these years — and he has been, up through last year’s performance in June. Similarly I’m not surprised to have created some allegiances to certain performers in particular who I will always catch when they come through, and I’m least of all surprised that most of them I first encountered in my late teens and early twenties. Recapturing one’s youth by any means is just one of those things that seems to shape a person, or can shape them — it’s by no means universal. Yet at the same time I think, or I’d like to think — if it’s not too obvious a justification — that some performers just really are that good, that will resolutely (as Billy Corgan once said about Nick Cave, pretty rightly too) refuse to suck.

But again, anticipation — none of that was on my mind then at all, and couldn’t’ve been! I do remember one hook of the show was seeing Murphy in an even larger venue, the now-more familiar to me Universal Ampitheatre, and seeing how he would pull it off. Another was the announcement that this show and/or possibly one that was going to immediately follow it — I have this dim impression he was also going to be playing the Palace for some reason — was going to be taped for a live album, something I’d never been part of (at least in terms of an official release). Yet another was the presence of a band I’d recently fallen pretty hard for — the House of Love, whose self-titled album that year had become another firm favorite in a year that seemed to be bursting with them. Finally, I’m pretty sure I went with the same group of people I did for the Jesus and Mary Chain — or even just one in particular, the one I was a little crushed out on. Add that all up and sure, why not go?

Nothing else really connects with me about the run-up to the show until the night of the show itself — not surprising, seeing as I must have been just thinking of little but Depeche and its aftermath right up until then — but there was a classic moment on the way in. As mentioned previously, at that time the Ampitheatre didn’t have the whole CityWalk complex installed around it, so you had to make your way in via a walkway that intersected with another path, the way that people were leaving the Universal Studios attraction as a whole. It being summer, the tourist season and therefore the amount of tourists was in full swing. And there we all were, a huge flock of Peter Murphy fans. It was hardly the only contrasting experience ever between ‘regular’ folks in the broadest possible sense and, well, goths (or at least a slew of people that readily fit that bracket) but there you go. I do remember seeing a lot of surprised and sometimes strained looks going back and forth between both parties — if it wasn’t when the goths started to invade Disneyland, it probably wasn’t too far removed.

I remember walking around a bit before the bands started, getting a little sense of the Ampitheatre that I hadn’t had before — and one thing I did notice was a first for me, namely realizing that this wasn’t going to be a sellout show. Until then, every show I had seen was packed to the gills, but this one had the floor seats all full while the balcony/loge seats were empty, possibly closed off. No idea whether this was a sign of miscalculation on the part of the promoter or on Murphy’s side, or even if it was long figured that it would only fill up so much. I had good enough seats so I didn’t care much either way, admittedly!

Two moments stick out about the House of Love — a really lovely performance of “Love in a Car” and Guy Chadwick’s easygoing, almost drolly said, “How ya doin’!” to us all after the first song had won some applause. I know at least one friend who became a fan of the band after that show and that matches my memories — only in later years, thanks to Dave Cavanagh’s brilliant book on the history of Creation Records, would I learn of the absolutely torturous, bizarre story of the group up to that band (and beyond, for that matter), something that the smooth, easygoing but still pretty strong performance that night belied. I didn’t realize that their album that year was the product of an insane bidding war, internecine fighting between bandmembers and producers and record execs and more, the mental fracturing of their genius guitarist Terry Bickers and Chadwick’s own shenanigans and obsessions. Bickers was gone anyway by that point so perhaps Chadwick simply felt he could take it easy. Some bands don’t air their dirty laundry on stage much, if at all.

As for Murphy, it was another fine show, perhaps not quite as consistently memorable as the Wiltern show a few months previously. Yet like the House of Love two moments stood out, almost certainly because I didn’t recall either performance from that earlier concert. One was a mystery for a long time, a moody number that had Murphy singing in an especially deep voice something like “Oooh, I’m gonna get…bit” — or at least, so I thought I’d heard for many years afterwards. Didn’t recognize it from an album, single, anything, and I didn’t catch or remember any introduction. Many years later, in reading Ian Shirley’s book about Bauhaus and the many solo projects, I caught a mention of how Murphy had done a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Clear Spot” on that tour and realized that had to have been it, with the half-remembered line being “‘fraid I’m gonna get hit” instead. A bit like a game of telephone, only the only twist in meaning was all in my head.

The other key moment was something I recognized after the fact as well, though it didn’t take me as long — however, I still hadn’t picked up his first solo album Should the World Fail to Fall Apart at that stage, so again I had to rely on my memory. It was a lot clearer here, happily — the song was “God Sends,” one of the loveliest songs on a still to my mind very beautiful, elegant album. The sentiments of the key lyric of the chorus — “Tell my friends they’re potential…they’re all potential godsends” — is at once a little wry but at the same time about exactly what I do think of my friends. I’m lucky, blessed, fortunate, however you describe it, to have them, and sometimes we don’t always recognize that quality about a friend we have until a crunch time or an extreme moment, when the potential is realized to the full. Murphy sings it almost gently on the album, though allowing himself the full strong croon elsewhere in the song.

Live, I seem to remember this changed more, with that key sentiment given the full blast, not a roar of course, but something that soared, almost suddenly, like it freed itself from the song even as his performance and that of his band’s stayed in sync. Another trick of the mind, maybe, to think of that line suddenly standing out, but I envision the swirl and flourish of his hands on stage in the distance, the way he looked upward and out, caught in a moment. Since it was the first time I’d heard the song, perhaps no surprise that that lyric impacted so much — a sudden sense of ‘yeah, that makes sense, that’s right somehow.’ It was deftly done.

Little more comes to mind that evening. Maybe the afterechoes of Depeche were too strong. But that moment, in particular, remains.

(The live album never came out, but some tracks turned up on singles later — sounded like the good show it was.)


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