Many years ago, when I was a wayward teenager, encrusted with equal quantities of eyeliner and acne, living in a cockroach-infested west London bedsit on a frankly appalling diet, Bauhaus were the soundtrack to my angst-fuelled, dole-funded existence. I went to all the gigs (and at that time it seemed like Bauhaus would take a swing through London almost every month), scoured the music press for the latest disdainful, nose-in-the-air reviews (press reaction to Bauhaus was almost universally hostile), and soaked up every drop of the band's art-glam schtick as if I were a kitchen towel.
Not that this meant I took Bauhaus too seriously, mind. In fact, I recall a bunch of us would routinely take the piss out of the band, as only true fans can. We'd frequently poke fun at David J, always standing there impassively in his 'big bins' spectacles, and the way Danny Ash would stick his bum out when he launched into a particularly coruscating guitar riff. We'd even parody Peter Murphy's on-stage moves, camping it up on the threadbare bedsit carpet, singing 'Oh to be a queen' in an exaggerated quaver. Our humour was not, it must be said, spectacularly sophisticated. But if it was OTT glam-punk theatre you wanted (and I did), you couldn't do better than Bauhaus.
In 1998, when Bauhaus staged their first comeback, I was elated and yet slightly let down - pleased to see my faves of yesteryear again, but frustrated that the reunion seemed to amount to nothing more than a novelty jaunt for the band. Once around the nostagia circuit, then Bauhaus went back in the box and the four members returned to their assorted solo projects. Which was all well and good, but it was like they'd served the hors d'oeuvres and then, just as we were ready for the main course, they'd closed the restaurant.
Now it's 2006, and, unexpectedly, Bauhaus are back. What's more, Peter Murphy is hinting in interviews that new material might be in the offing. So, is this the real regrouping that we didn't quite get last time? Could another reformation work - third time around, 23 years after the original split? What price that glam-punk theatre, so many years down the line? It's not like I want Bauhaus to reproduce exactly the kind of show they used to do in the 80s, but can a bunch of aging art-glammies, all now nearer 50 than 40, raise enough energy to fill the Brixton Academy? There's only one way to find out. Let's get down the front.
There are no support bands. Which, I recall, is how Bauhaus presented themselves in '98: in glorious isolation, unencumbered by opening acts. I remember some blurb to the effect that this enhanced the theatrical experience, or somesuch blather. I never really believed this, suspecting instead that these days Bauhaus prefer not to risk being upstaged by feisty young upstarts. A hint, perhaps, of a certain lack of confidence on the part of our old muckers - and since Peter Murphy showed no reluctance to engage a support act on his recent solo tour, it does rather make me wonder which of the other three is suffering from cold feet. I'd be much more impressed if Bauhaus were heading up a full show, giving new bands a boost, secure in the knowledge that they could see off any challenge. As it is, the audience is treated to the world's longest wait, during which the front-of-stage crush grows ever greater. It's interesting to look around at the gathering crowd, and see who's here: the ageing ubergoths, the old-skool alternorockers, the curious younger fans who never saw the band first time - or, indeed, second time - around. Now here's a funny thing. In the eight years since the previous Bauhaus comeback, an entirely new generation of fans has grown up. That's quite uncanny. It's as if all Bauhaus have to do is stay away, and their fanbase renews itself in their absence.
At last, they're on, and it's 'Burning From The Inside', smouldering slowly, white light and a Danny Ash guitar riff. Peter Murphy hangs back, teasing us with vocals and gyrations from atop a platform upstage. Kevin Haskins is, as ever, self-effacing and efficient on drums. David J, these days wearing distinctly smaller bins than he used to, does his restrained, professorial thing on bass. The odd thing about Bauhaus is that they never really change: whether it's been eight years or 20 years since you last clapped eyes on them, they'll still look like they've only been gone five minutes. Or then again...perhaps not. When he finally moves to the front of the stage, Peter Murphy reveals an image distinctly more staid and sensible than the wild-haired rock 'n' roll shaman we saw a while back on his solo tour. Besuited and shorn of hair, he bizarrely resembles Tony Blair rousing the party faithful at a New Labour rally - and that, frankly, is not quite the image I want to be confronted with at a Bauhaus gig. Fortunately, the music slices through my misgivings like a scythe. When it comes to whipping up their sonic storm, Bauhaus certainly haven't lost their touch.
Second song in is 'In The Flat Field', and that's when the accelerator really goes down. Mr Ash goes at the guitar part like he's carving the Sunday roast (and yes, he still sticks his bum out, too), while Mr Murphy commands the stage like he's just bought it for cash. 'A God In An Alcove' rattles out at the seething crowd like machine gunnery. 'In Fear Of Fear' allows Daniel Ash to make some shapes and noise with his saxophone - astonishing, really, that such a minimal, guitar-less arrangement should still sound so huge. Someone in the crowd shows their appreciation by hurling an inflatable sax towards the stage - alas, it doesn't quite make it. By now it's obvious that we're not in for any difficult stuff like new material tonight. It's exhumations from the golden grooveyard all the way, but everything is as sharp as fresh lemonade. There's certainly no hint of any eighties-retro flavour in the sound, which perhaps indicates the essential quality of Bauhaus. They don't date. They were out on their own limb then; they're still out on it now. 'Terror Couple Kill Colonel' shows its age ever so slightly with its cold-war terrorist scenario ('In his West German home'), but its stark, stalking, spooked-out feel, the guitar shivering like nerves, feels like a soundtrack to today.
'She's in Parties' is a slinky rumble of doom, on which the band indulge themselves with an extended dubwize coda, David J remaining as inscrutable as ever even as his fingers do the talking. 'Kick In The Eye' is a downright funky, walloping anthem which as near as dammit has the entire Brixton Academy shaking like a jelly. 'Hollow Hills', always a bit of a default hippy-goth croon from my point of view, tonight captures a bit of real atmosphere as Daniel Ash conjures strange ululations with a drumstick on his guitar strings. Peter Murphy puts authentic grit and bile into 'Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores', only slightly defused by the fact that he's now discarded his jacket and pinned a red rose to his shirt, which enhances the New Labour image to a quite disconcerting extent.A slam into 'Stigmata Martyr' sends energy cracking out from the stage - and then comes a piece of classic Bauhausian theatre. Everything goes suddenly silent. The show stops, the band stand motionless, mere shapes in subdued light. The pause goes on...and on...and on, until I start to wonder when the audience's rapt attention will snap, and everyone will start throwing things. Bauhaus hang it out as long as they dare (which is substantially longer than I would dare), and then Daniel Ash suddenly comes to life. His guitar spits out the riff to 'Hair Of The Dog', and they're away once more on a full-on storm to the finishing line, which is finally breasted by a 100mph thrash 'n' snarl through 'Dark Entries'.
That's not the lot, of course. Encores follow, and when the band return it's clearly sensitive-interlude time, with 'All We Ever Wanted Was Everything', and a reprise of the band's cover of Dead Can Dance's 'Severance', which we first heard in 1998. And then, straight in to a rocket-fuelled romp through 'St Vitus Dance', and I'm thinking, this could easily turn into Joy Division's 'Transmission' any minute - and bugger me, but it does. Oooh, slick, very slick, gentlemen, and such a neat fit with the Bauhaus boogie, too.
The band flam up the glam with 'Telegram Sam' and a roaring, mad-bastard rush at 'Ziggy Stardust', a tower of rock power only slightly undermined by Peter Murphy's insistence on wearing an old red dressing gown for the performance. Perhaps this was supposed to hint at a certain decadent, lounge glamour, but frankly he looks like he's just got out of the bath. Sack the stylist, Pete. But then the song just screeches to a halt. It's unceremoniously chopped off short before the final flourish; the band troop off the stage. What's going on? This: a brief interlude, and the band return. Peter is now draped in an old black blanket which, presumably, is supposed to represent a vampiric cape - Pete, I said sack the stylist! And then, unexpectedly and belatedly, comes the final crashing chord and vocal line of the unfinished 'Ziggy', the Murphy voice surging to the very heights of the Brixton Academy's paint-peeling ceiling. Following which, of course, it's 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' - instantly familiar, that long, slow, uncoiling of rhythm and effects and scratchy, insistent guitar. It's a counter-intuitive tune to finish on, in a way, given that it doesn't really have an end - there's no big climax, just an eventual dying-away of everything. But, nevertheless, it is the end. One by one, Bauhaus walk off the stage, until Kevin Haskins, the last to leave, gives us the final rimshot. The house lights come up, and realisation dawns that we've just seen a classic Bauhaus show.
In the afterglow, questions still remain. Are Bauhaus really back as a creative unit, or is this latest reformation just another holiday in nostalgia-land? Will we see any of that sort-of promised new material? Spicing up the set with new cover versions is all very well, but it's no real alternative to new songwriting - especially as Bauhaus repertoire is fully loaded with covers already. (A possibly pertinent statistic: there were a total of five covers in tonight's set). Bauhaus have demonstrated with fine aplomb that they can still cut it.
gentlemen, what's next?
For more photos from this gig, find Bauhaus by name here.