The Highline Ballroom
New York, New York
April 2, 2011
Over the past three decades, Peter Murphy has gained a loyal fan through both his solo work and as the former front man for Bauhaus. His recorded output as well has his live performances have garnered him the oh-so-dark moniker, "Godfather of Goth."
Prior to his April 2, 2011 Highline Ballroom performance, Neon Grafitti was able to sit down with Murphy to discuss his career and the Spring Tour. Relaxing in his dressing room pre-show, Murphy was all long legs, sinewy frame and intense blue eyes. He perched on one end of the sofa, arm casually thrown over the back of the couch, and leaning forward to make his points, speaking animatedly.
Murphy explained that touring is essential to all aspects of being an artist. "It's where I live actually," Murphy reflected of his time on the road to support the June 2011 CD release, Ninth (Nettwerk), this time, touching down for one night at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, with opening acts Livan and Jessie Mayer. "I'm not just a road animal, but I count my live performances as important as actually making music. It's such a great opportunity to connect also with an actual physical, tangible audience. And you do, in fact, meet the audience in that sense. They're crucial for the show to take place, of course. So there's an exchange going on. There definitely is a strong performance element to what I do. Sometimes I'll stylize it more than others and on this one, this particular tour, I'm relying on just myself with the band, with no acrobatics, no sort of over-special moments, but making it about me and the band and a voice."
During his Highline Ballroom performance, Murphy treated the faithful to an eclectic sampling of his canon. The show could best be likened to a jukebox of his discography. "Low Room," an old favorite, energized the crowd. Appearing appropriately dressed in black jeans, a black hoodie and a few strands of shiny silver Mardi Gras beads, Murphy interacted with the crowd, as they stood pressed into the stage, many deep. As the show progressed, he brushed off classics and delivered them with such energy that even the older songs felt fresh. Among the evening's highpoints were the solo offerings, "Subway," "Cuts You Up," "Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem" and "Huvola," a song written for his two kids. Another standout performance was the hauntingly romantic version of "I'll Fall With Your Knife."
Murphy, who does not tour often, would not play Bauhaus songs during his earlier solo tours. When asked why, Murphy said, "I would not play Bauhaus in my previous '80s and '90s solo tours, simply because I wanted to keep the integrity intact, but now I'm playing it free-form, because my audience wants to hear it and I really want to play it. They're my songs. It's okay," reiterated Murphy. "There's no problem about that now. Now I know that it's definitely not appropriate that we play together again. Because that was their choice, not mine initially." Bauhaus reunited twice but the final breakup of the band came at the end of creating Go Away White (Cooking Vinyl, 2008), and that the split caused the band to not tour in support of that project.
Intermingled with his solo offerings, Murphy strutted his way through some of Bauhaus' most beloved songs—"Burning From the Inside" and "Silent Hedges." The audience was left speechless and entranced by a pulsing mash-up of both solo work and Bauhaus fare. "A Strange Kind of Love" was coupled with and segued into what is perhaps the band and Murphy's most well-known song, "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Additionally, Murphy carefully selected two covers which displayed his creative prowess. Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt" sounded as if he had written it himself, while Iggy & The Stooges' "Raw Power" was exactly that: raw and powerful.
New material was showcased as well. Seamlessly weaved among his older songs and three outfit shifts, the former Maxell cassette ad model introduced the throbbing "Memory Go," the striking "Peace to Each," and the infectious "The Prince and Old Lady Shade," as well as the extremely powerful "Velocity Bird."
Radiating happiness and exuding an energy that belied his 53 years, Murphy's performance was akin to watching a joyous child on a playground on a summer's day. He twirled, posed and constantly engaged the audience. He was never still and his confidence and charisma were unfaltering. It is impossible to believe he has never been less than completely himself on stage, but early on, fear factored in to his work on stage, at least in his own head.
"In the early days, I would go on and it would be very powerful but I would end up truly drained and exhausted afterwards. And I think there was a very subtle event where I would allow the audience to suck my energy. I would become too affected by certain responses so like in effect, I would be affected and therefore, drained. Now I'm just tired. I've learned to be myself on stage in a way that's accepting myself, because I would not really identify with people who said even after the first year 'You're an icon' or 'You're so this' or 'You're so like...' And I said, 'No, no, no! People say that about everybody onstage.' Then I started to think, wait a minute, is that true? And I think it is, but I don't know why they're saying it. And so it kind of was like a very strange experience to have to confront that. Where I am now, is I once accepted it as being totally true. On the other hand, it doesn't matter to me. It's not important to do what I do. Because what I do is of me, is me. It's very pure in that sense."
And on this night, it was the audience that was drained. Murphy's high-energy show was infectious. The audience sang, danced and swayed to the beat. At the end, even though they were exhausted, sweat-drenched, satiated and giddy, the devotees would have happily remained for more.
Additional Article Contributions by Mike Perciaccante.
Courtesy of Nettwerk Records