Then-current album: Holy Smoke
Opening act: Machines of Loving Grace
Back of ticket ad: KLSX, once and forever
I am really wondering what a July 4 Peter Murphy would be like (or for that matter is like). I can’t quite see him doing the state/county fair circuit, though…
Anyway, seeing someone for a third time and seeing another band not at all, and more besides. And goths.
But I’ll get to the goths. Which may sound a little counterintuitive because we’re talking about Peter Murphy, but at this stage I was now something of a small-scale Murphy veteran, this being my third overall show, and I couldn’t say everyone was gothed out in the audience, least of all myself. Backtracking a bit, when Murphy’s follow-up to Deep was announced and came out, there was at least a general sense of expectation that he might get somewhere further than he even had before thanks to the success of Deep and “Cuts You Up.” He was duly booked on a late night show — Dennis Miller, as it happened — and there was a bit more promo attention paid this time around. I was all for it in any event — while my musical horizons were rapidly expanding throughout the early nineties, I had made the shift from being new to Murphy’s work, solo and with Bauhaus, to being an enthusiastic fan to starting to feel like I would be a bit of a lifer with him, as proved to be the case.
However, Holy Smoke — with its rather ‘what the huh’ album cover showing him scruffed up with a black eye — fell a bit flat on a follow-up hit level, not helped by the fact that the lead single “The Sweetest Drop” was a clunky, strident song with some lyrics that were kinda embarrassing, to be frank. Nothing further really caught after that, which is a pity given those excellent songs that are on the album, even and perhaps especially “Hit Song,” the completely over the top in the best possible way ballad that ended it and that should really have lived up to its title. It was almost a simultaneous embrace of the big leagues and a knowing farewell to it, though that mostly came to mind in retrospection.
Amid all the other busy things going on in my life in early 1992 I wasn’t completely obsessing over the album and its fate, but I knew that Murphy could definitely put on a good show and so when the tour was announced getting tickets was a no-brainer, especially when it was announced that the Nymphs were going to be opening. I had become a huge fan of theirs, as previous entries indicate, and figured seeing them at their biggest venue they’d yet played to my knowledge would be a treat; Inger Lorre surely could fill and take over a stage just as easily as Murphy could and did. Steve M. and I therefore found ourselves heading over on another warm early summer evening to Hollywood, waiting to see what would happen.
Except one thing had already changed by the time of the show — no Nymphs appearance. No Nymphs at all, in fact — earlier on the tour the band had collapsed, prompted by Lorre up and quitting the band after what had been apparently one too many fights with her bandmates. I had heard that there was a show or two after that with one of the guitarists singing the vocals instead, but I can’t imagine he did anywhere near as a good a job, and shortly after that the band completely fragmented and that was that. Knowing that a classically LA band had splintered before at least one last hometown show was a bit of a bummer but there’s life — the end result was that the Machines of Loving Grace took over the opening slot. It was actually not too bad a change for me, since I’d enjoyed the group’s self-titled debut — industrial-rock that was constantly compared to Nine Inch Nails but had its own elegantly moody thing going at its best, especially since the singer didn’t sound like Trent Reznor at all.
Lots of memories stick out about this whole night, for a variety of reasons — it was both a fun evening and a funny one. Bizarrely the first thing I remember is that on the way over to the show we stopped in Hollywood to grab a quick bite to eat at the Arby’s on Sunset near the 101. I have NO idea why we choose Arby’s and why I remember that otherwise generic meal beyond the fact that I know I haven’t set foot in one since — so there’s Arby’s and Peter Murphy, forever associated in my mind. A vision, I guess.
It was the first time I had ever been to the Greek Theatre and I’ve only been a few times since, but each time’s actually been a really good show. The setting is lovely, it’s a large venue without being monstrously so, and the time of year was perfect, so I remember settling down in our seats, about halfway back or so near stage center, thinking this would be a pretty great night. Machines of Loving Grace kicked it off well enough though I don’t think they quite connected with the crowd — “Burn Like Brilliant Trash” was probably their most well known song at that point, and the performance as a whole was fair if not really remarkable. Pretty sure they did what remains my favorite song of theirs, “Cicciolina,” but they were a year off from their biggest hit “Butterfly Wings” and by default a good chunk of the crowd hadn’t bought a ticket to see them in particular. Never saw them again and mostly I remember stylized demi-capering on stage, so hey.
Peter Murphy, on the other hand, was in his element from the first song. If the album was a washout on the commercial level of expectations, the performance was not, and it definitely helped cement the vision in my head that Murphy simply will not aim to put on a bad show whatever the circumstance, that or LA in general means he won’t, or both. Some years later I learned more about the sense of general tension among himself and his backing band in the early nineties, but in a way it might have slightly resolved by events — at one point Murphy noted that one of them (the drummer, perhaps? definitely not Paul Statham) was wrapping up his time with the band with this tour, and possibly even that very show if it was the tour-ender, introducing him to the audience and calling for a cheer. I remember this all being done very warmly, not with irony or a pointed edge; Murphy asked the musician to join him stage center for a hug and salute.
Another reason I liked the show was that two of my favorite all time songs of his got performed then, both of which hadn’t been on the previous tour. Both are big, slow, sweeping songs that appear on Love Hysteria — “Time Has Got Nothing To Do With It” and “My Last Two Weeks,” dramatic, beautiful, elegant, pile on the superlatives. I had fallen for both them pretty hard when I first discovered Murphy’s work in 1989 and so finally hearing them when I’d missed out the tour for that album was a bit of a dream come true. The former seemed made for the Greek Theatre too, something that suited the mood of the setting, the general atmosphere of a big performance in the open air. Great show, simply put.
And the goths? Well, it went like this — so before either of the bands even started Steve M. and I were sitting around just relaxing and two dudes settled in behind us in their seats, and they were TOTALLY gothed out, you couldn’t put it any other way. Both Steve and I were probably initially thinking, “Ah well, of course,” but we ended up chatting with them and rapidly discovered that they had senses of humor as completely scabrous as our own. I’ve run into enough self-serious goths — self-serious hyperfans of any genre, for that matter — to have grown rapidly tired of anyone who lacks a sense of being able to laugh at themselves as much as the rest of the world.
These guys not only knew how to do that, they were as down on ridiculous hyperposeurs as we were in general — which made their story they shared with us pretty hilarious. It’s really best told in person (as I’ve told it to many people over time) but without getting into detail it was about a locally notorious performer in what was LA’s goth/industrial scene as such at the time who had put on an air that he was not only playing a vampire, he WAS a vampire, only appearing in public at night and all that, and that he kept this up constantly onstage, offstage, any time. I had only heard of him and his band but these guys had seen them and weren’t all that impressed.
So when they found out that said performer had a day job working in a Wherehouse in the San Fernando Valley, they took great pleasure in showing up at the Wherehouse in question, tracking him down in the store and going “A real vampire! Quick, exorcise him, fling holy water at him!” while the dude in question apparently muttered under his breath, looked around nervously and tried to escape.
So that’s why you should chat with random people at shows sometimes. You never know what stories you’ll hear.