Roy Jurgens on
This was never going to happen. Bauhaus was never going to be on stage again, not together, not after 13 years of acrimony, not after repeated doubts from members that they would ever work together again, not after having gone through the reunion dance twice.
But there they were Sunday night — less than three months after vocalist Peter Murphy suffered a heart attack before a solo show in New York — enthralling a black-dressed crowd of 5,000 at the Hollywood Palladium, playing with a fire that seemed to burn a lot of pent-up fuel. Those who expected to see an iconic band were not disappointed.
Whether the show resulted from Murphy’s brush with mortality or merely from a desire to light a fire under their catalog (not that their post-Bauhaus projects haven’t), the crowd cared not a whit. The air was heavy with excitement during the opening set of miminalistic Krautrock by electro-kids Automatic, the trio featuring Lola Dompé, daughter of Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins.
And there was a palpable rush when Murphy, Haskins, Daniel Ash and David J took the the stage and blasted forth a crunching, feedback-drenched version of John Cale’s “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores.” Following that with the blistering one-two punch of “Double Dare” and “In a Flat Field,” it was clear that Bauhaus were back with a vengeance.
Like the best bands of their generation, Bauhaus made magic despite their technical shortcomings. Haskins’ static and angular drumming, Ash’s broken-glass version of glam-rock guitar, David J’s use of dub, pulse and throb, and Murphy’s rich, deep baritone made for a unique combination in 1978, the year of the band’s inception. As a musical genre, “goth” had yet to be coined, and the bleakness of Northampton, England, proved a perfect canvas for the young foursome’s monochromatic tunes of doom and gloom. The band lasted a mere five years and four releases before they parted ways in 1983, with all the members enjoying greater degrees of commercial success outside the group. Murphy had a major hit with “Cuts You Up,” and the Love and Rockets trio of Ash, Haskins and David J scored big with “So Alive.”
Despite being credited as the “Godfathers of Goth,” the band rejected that label, and upon further reflection, one can understand their argument. The magic of Bauhaus comes from the perfect merger of completely disparate elements. Shades of Bowie, Brel, baritone and Berliner camp form Murphy’s shadow. Ash brings forth the pre-glam metal slash and burn of Mick Ronson and the style of T. Rex. David J is steeped in the cheeba haze of dub master Lee “Scratch” Perry and traditional soul like James Brown. Haskins took the mechanical beats of Neu and Can and applied the Martin Hannett technique of making them sound organic and human. So the band credited as architects of “Goth” are not actually goth. Go ahead, ask them. Bauhaus is soul music, moving, emotive, soothing, provocative and sententious, which is why 15,000 people will pack a ballroom across three nights (they play the Palladium again tonight and on Dec. 1) to see a band that nary had so much as a sniff of a charting single.
But that’s not to say there aren’t any hits. “Bela Lugosi is Dead” is the “Stairway to Heaven” of post-punk. The song that launched a thousand bands in its wake has lost none of its chilly luster. Played midway through Sunday’s 90-minute set, it is still epic, still icy, still grating — the climax for many of the newbies who had not yet gone full undead. To the faithful, the highlights were a trio of songs that haven’t tickled ears since the early ’80s. It was 1982 when anyone last heard “The Three Shadows, Part II” and “The Man With the X-Ray Eyes,” and it was 1983 when Bauhaus last played “Spy in the Cab.” That along with the Iggy Pop cover of “Sister Midnight” made the evening much more than a rehash of “The Best of Bauhaus.” Yes, it was all killer and no filler, as other set highlights included “A Kick in the Eye,” “She’s in Parties” and a furious version of “Stigmata Martyr.”
Murphy certainly doesn’t look the part of a man who just had two stents stuck in him less than three months ago. He was singing with exceptional projection, pulling his mic away a good 18 inches and yet still filling the hall with his bellow. One wishes that he’d even take it down a notch.
There is still no word on whether this reformation will lead to a broader tour — after tonight’s second sold-out night, there’s one more Palladium date, Dec. 1, with Azam Ali opening. Perhaps bygones are really bygones, indeed.
Setlist: Rosegarden Funeral of Sores (John Cale cover) , Double Dare, In The Flat Field, A God in an Alcove, In Fear of Fear, Spy in the Cab, Terror Couple Kill Colonel, Swing the Heartache, She’s In Parties, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Kick In The Eye, The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, Stigmata Martyr, Silent Hedges, Dark Entries. Encore: The Three Shadows, Part II, Sister Midnight (Iggy Pop cover), Telegram Sam (T. Rex cover) , Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie cover).
Photos by Matt Cowan