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.)

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.

Peter Murphy off in the distance…

…or so it might seem thanks to the way that I took the photo. I was actually a lot closer to the stage than that, it’s partially the iPhone camera’s way of taking things, but I was also up in the balcony, sneaking a shot over a couple of people in front of me — and the resultant effect was actually quite striking, the isolated performers under the lights, seemingly playing to nobody.

Had various things to say about the show via Twitter and Facebook but this summary later provides a sample of my thoughts:

The show was tonight and I was quite impressed….what was especially cool was how he lived up fully to what he told me was going to be a focus on obscurer or new songs — I only immediately recognized about four solo songs (and he did NOT play “Cuts You Up,” though he did do two other songs from Deep), plus a Bauhaus-themed first encore that actually started with “A Strange Kind of Love” from Deep but that turned into a self mashup with that song’s music and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”‘s lyrics — and it worked! The covers were well-chosen — Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” made me happy as hell, completely knocked it out of the park with a vocal/electric guitar arrangement of NIN’s “Hurt” and a concluding take on “Space Oddity” arranged to sound like something from Dust combined with a Space Age/shapeship rhythm track.

But all the new songs were quite enjoyable and a few were REALLY strong, and it was telling how well he carried the crowd with the strength of his performances and his band’s with all this new material. It was a very in-the-moment show, very ‘this is where I’m at.’ Not the easiest of things to do but he succeeded.

Also got to meet him briefly. Friendly, witty guy!

And he was, indeed. Thanks again to friend H. for being so kind. I’ll hope to finally have the full interview I did to run later this week on here.

My interview with Peter Murphy is up at the OC Weekly…

…and I hope to have a full transcript up here in a couple of days! But in the meantime, here’s the link and here’s a bit of the story:

“I enjoy playing with what’s at hand, almost like found ideas, something that’s here-and-now. Most of my vocals are written in one take, they just need a bit of refining—I don’t really want to mess around with the details! Working in music somehow allows you a liberation, it allows you to speak from a less bound-up kind of perspective.”

Speaking from his adopted home country of Turkey, Peter Murphy sounds simultaneously enthused, thoughtful and joyous. The British singer has long explored those moods in his work, most famously (in America) in his chart hit “Cuts You Up.” But some people also know him for probing darker, more emotionally fraught impulses with that band he used to be in.

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