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Peter MurphyPeter Murphy
Lettie
Greenhaus

Dingwalls, London
Wednesday Aiugust 5 2010

 

 

The poster on the door of the Electric Ballroom instructs us to go elsewhere. Tonight's Peter Murphy gig, originally scheduled for the Ballroom, has been shunted up the road at short notice - to Dingwalls. Not a major inconvenience, since the new venue is only two minutes away. But Dingwalls is, inescapably, a smaller venue than the Ballroom.

The conclusion is obvious: the gig hasn't shifted enough tickets to fill the bigger venue, so it's been hastily downsized. That's not good news for Peter Murphy, but it's no real surprise - his previous London gig was somewhat under-attended, too. Trouble is, there's been little in the way of promotion or profile for Peter Murphy's recent solo work in the UK. His albums have been sneaked out surreptitiously. The music media's disinterest has been deafening.

Peter Murphy's appeal these days is that of a cult artist rather than a star. It's frustrating, because with a push and a shove he could easily be on top again. But, it seems, his industry partners (whoever they might be these days) would rather let things coast. Sorry, Pete, but Dingwalls it is, then.

GreenhausAnd Greenhaus it is, then. I've been carefully avoiding Greenhaus on the gig circuit ever since I was utterly bored by their smoothly winsome MOR at a Client gig, ages ago. Life's too short for such tedium, I thought, and I've been giving the band a wide berth ever since. But I can't avoid them tonight. Well, I'll give 'em a go. You never now, they might be at home to Mister Interesting these days.

Oh. No, they're not. Greenhaus are as glossy and as polished and as banal as ever. Well, at least you've got to give 'em credit for consistency. The lads in the band keep their heads down and get on with it - the drummer wears an expression of exquisite boredom throughout, as he keeps the mid-tempo beats plodding away. Up front, the singer is engaging and smiley and seems overjoyed to be here, but I'm practically ready for bed after three songs.

Not only do Greenhaus make blandly indifferent mid-tempo gloss-pop, they are masters of the lyrical cliché, too. Their songwriting technique appears to be to think of a platitude, repeat it umpteen times, and call the result a lyric. 'Take a look, and you will see' warbles the singer, between disarming smiles. Gosh, I'd never realised that if you look, you'll see. Such an original insight there. I really must write it down.

The nadir, unfortunately, is still to come. Greenhaus have a song which basically consists of that hoary old phrase 'It's not over until the fat lady sings' repeated over and over and over and over again. I can feel my will to live ebbing away as the song pointlessly trundles along. Fortunately, the set ends before hari-kari starts looking like a viable option.

LettieEven more fortunately, Lettie is in the middle tonight, and I know she's good, because I've seen her before - at the previous Peter Murphy gig. Apparently, Pete invited her back this time. Good for him. Unfortunately, she hasn't been given a soundcheck tonight, which means her set is prefaced by an extended interlude of tech-hassle, roadie-bumbling and mounting levels of stress.

But, eventually, everything is plugged in and working. Lettie sets her live vocal loops circulating, feeding in keyboard flurries and outbreaks of guitar, her collaborator Mike Mason manipulating more gear on an occasional table to the side. A Lettie set is a bit like parlour techno, in that you can envisage her performing among chintz and aspidistras, bringing her accessible out-there-ness and neatly anomalous music into the home and making everything familiar suddenly seem strange.

Lettie's songs are off-kilter pop pastries, eccentrically assembled out of seemingly random ingredients - here a dollop of reverb, there a sudden burst of toy megaphone distortion. But Lettie herself is in control of it all, an idiosyncratic pop performer standing amid a tangle of wires. Yes, I like this stuff...and I really must get to a Lettie gig that's not a Peter Murphy support.

And now it's time to turn the dial to ROCK. Peter Murphy might be best known for his arch, mannered songs and the angular glamour of his presence, but tonight he's obviously been necking the punker pills. His band set up a hammering rock 'n' roll roar, monster riffs bouncing off all the walls, while Pete himself goes punk rock postal. He's a manic whirl of shapes and moves, looming out into the crowd, accosting audience members and his band alike.

Second song in is 'Raw Power', and although I saw the Stooges themselves do the definitive version not long ago, Peter Murphy matches Iggy's gang for sheer battering energy. He even hurls himself at the drummer and sets to, bashing away at the kit - the drummer, stoic and resigned, keeps the beat going all the while.

Fortunately, perhaps, things calm down a bit after that. Peter Murphy can certainly do punk rock, but he does light and shade, too. So, with Peter an affable, humourous captain, in fine voice and ever-ready with a between-song quip, the band sets offf on a voyage around the Bauhaus-and-beyond songbook. In some ways it's the quieter, oddly reflective numbers that hit the spot best. 'Silent Hedges', with Peter on 12-string acoustic guitar, is entirely its own weird-folk self; 'All We Ever Wanted Was Everything' builds to its triumph-in-downfall climax with all its old drama intact. Bela Lugosi, as seems to be his fate these days, is reanimated as an adjunct to 'Strange Kind Of Love', Peter hushing his band and improvising a solo acoustic finale.

Peter MurphyThe terrible twins of 'Stigmata Martyr' and 'Dark Entries' suddenly crash-land on the atmospherics, and all of a sudden its glam-slam time again, the band shredding the songs to bits as Peter hurls himself around the stage in a blaze of white light.

It's a reminder, as if we needed one, that Bauhaus were always masters of dynamics, and Pete's still got those chops. It's interesting to note, though, that nowadays it takes two guitarists to do what Daniel Ash once did all by himself.

'Cuts You Up' - which sometimes seems like the only Peter Murphy song that anyone in the UK knows - is efficiently despatched, and then it's the song that everybody has been waiting for, including those too cool to admit it.

Guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite slices out the opening chords to 'Ziggy Stardust' - but that's all we get. Abruptly, Peter Murphy calls a halt. The guitar is out of tune, or Mark Thwaite's finger wasn't quite on the right fret, or somesuch glitch - at any rate, Peter's heard something in those opening chords that he doesn't like. Well, OK: that happens, sometimes. The band simply makes the necessary adjustments and carries on. But not this time.

Suddenly brusque and schoolmasterly, Peter orders the band off stage. All of them. Mark Thwaite looks thunderstruck, as if he barely believes what's happening. But that's it. The end - almost - of the show.

There's one more song, an incongruously serene 'Your Face', sung to a backing track and solo violin - the violinist, not having been on stage for the big bust-up, is apparently deemed sufficiently persona grata enough to play. And then, the real end of the show. Pete says his thank-yous and leaves, to warm but slightly confused applause. At the front, fans peer at the set lists. There are several songs that didn't make it into the performance. Would we have got 'em if it wasn't for Peter's sudden rock star moment? Who knows?

Peter MurphyWe got a good gig, but it certainly doesn't feel like we got all the gig. Peter Murphy's abrupt termination of the show overshadows everything: it's the talking point among the crowd on the way out, the main memory the audience will take home tonight.

I suppose Peter Murphy has the right to order his band around, cut his sets short, do whatever he likes: he's a solo performer, the main man. It is - literally - his band.

But I can't help wondering what would have happened if he'd tried a similar stunt with Bauhaus. Somehow, I suspect Daniel Ash wouldn't have accepted a similarly blunt assumption of authority quietly.

Perhaps, tonight, we got an insight into the tensions that finally, irrevocably, caused Bauhaus to split.

Well, we'll never know about that. All we know is that Peter Murphy was on fine form...right up to the point where he pulled the plug on himself.

The cult crowd might take such capricious behaviour on the chin, but you'd better watch it, Pete. Remember, you ended up with a downsized gig tonight. This ain't no way to climb back up the stairs to stardom.

 

Peter Murphy: Website | MySpace

Lettie: Website | MySpace

Greenhaus: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Peter Murphy by name here.

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