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Peter MurphyPeter Murphy
Indig02, London
Sunday October 11 2009



I have seen the future, and it's a shopping mall.

The Indig02 (nope, I don't know how to pronouce it, either: it's a sponsorship thing) is a spanking new and squeaky clean theatre-style music venue. It's situated on an artificial street lined with middle-market retail opportunities (there's a Starbucks - 'nuff said) that itself has been built inside what we used to call the Millennium Dome - now known, for mobile phone marketing reasons, as The 02. It's all a bit Disneyland, utterly corporate, and decidedly un-rock 'n' roll.

Nevertheless, this is the venue for Peter Murphy's London gig. That's 'Peter Murphy Of Bauhaus', as he seems to be officially called these days. I don't know if Pete has changed his name by deed poll or anything, but the phrase 'Of Bauhaus' is attached to his name wherever it appears - on the gig posters, on the flyers, even on the high tech illuminated display over the venue doorway.

Marketing strikes again, I suspect. Although he's got a whole solo career under his belt - including a very successful period as a bona-fide US chart star - Peter Murphy is still primarily known in the UK as the Lettiesinger out of Bauhaus. So, possibly to his own chagrin, a gig to promote Peter Murphy's latest solo album is heavily marketed on the back of his old band. Still, it could be worse, I suppose. At least he hasn't been obliged to name himself after a mobile phone company.

At first, I have no idea who the support act is. There are no introductions - and no information on posters or tickets. Don't you just hate it when that happens? So, when a reserved but determined woman appears on stage, equipped with guitar, keyboard, and two (count 'em, two) microphones I'm at something of a loss to know who I'm watching.

It's only when I notice that the keyboard on stage bears hand-written labels that read 'Lettie Music' that it occurs to me that Lettie might be the name of the artist standing behind it - and 'music' is what she does, although I'd worked that bit out all by myself. So it proves: Lettie is an almost-solo artist (she's joined occasionally by another keyboard player) who creates odd, acute, ballads and torch songs out of her minimal instrumentation and a handful of vocal effects. Setting up vocal loops via one microphone, then putting a lead vocal over the top on the other, adding keybpoard layers and slices of the guitar, the resulting songs are tougher things than you might imagine - excursions into pointed pop that steer clear of dreaded easy-listening singer-songwriter territory by virtue of their punch and attitude.

It has to be said that the venue is hardly rammed by headline time. Although the publicity effort heavily plugs Peter Murphy's Bauhaus connections, the Bauhaus Barmy Army has significantly failed to show tonight. And, in the absence of any great promotional effort for his latest solo album (in fact, in the absence of any promotional effort for Peter Murphy as a solo artist full stop), there isn't a particularly huge crowd of Peter Murphy fans to make up the numbers.

Peter MurphyPerhaps realising that the gig is a little more intimate than planned, Peter Murphy pitches his performance at an informal, conversational level. Instead of striding out as the haughty prince of Glam, he's relaxed, humourous, striking up conversations with people in the crowd, telling the stories behind the songs - or, sometimes, just telling stories. His band go with the flow, happy to hang out while their leader disarmingly presents Peter Murphy the man, rather than Peter Murphy the rock star.

But when it's time to cut the chat and crank up the rock 'n' roll, Peter Murphy the rock star makes a sudden comeback. Crashing into the songs as if propelled by jet packs, the band give it the full-on glam-slam, while Murphy himself transfigures before our very eyes into the imperious pirate captain, all swagger and shape-throwing. He paces the stage as if generating electricity, raising the microphone and hurling his vocals to the very back of the - unfortunately rather empty - balcony.

There are new songs in the set, which sound suitably powerful, although as at Peter Murphy's performance earlier this year in Leipzig I can't quite rid myself of the nagging thought that the new stuff amounts to decent, but very generic, rock songs. The earlier solo material sounds much more distinctive - 'Deep Ocean, Vast Sea' has plenty of, er, depth, while 'Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem' is an affecting 12-string interlude.

But it's the covers, with which the set is liberally sprinkled, that really hit the spot. Peter Murphy's choices of cover songs might be much as you'd expect from a man who discovered music as a seventies teenager, but John Lennon's 'Instant Karma' and Roxy Music's 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' sound sparky and fresh given the Murphy treatment. So, oddly enough, does 'Too Much Twenty-first Century', one of only one and a half Bauhaus songs in the set - tonight's rendition is a distinct, cut-and-thrust improvement on the glorified jam session treatment Bauhaus gave the song on the band's final, somewhat will-this-do, album.

The half-song Bauhaus selection, by the way, turns out to be 'Bela Lugosi's Dead', sung as an incongruous medley with 'A Strange Kind Of Love'. Odd, but it works, and the medley painlessly disposes of an old song Pete perhaps feels he's sung too often for comfort over the years. Finally, Peter Murphy's odd, theatrics-to-the-backing-track version of Bowie's Space Oddity wraps things up, the band lying down on stage in a complete antithesis if the big rock 'n' roll finale. I'm left with the thought that Peter Murphy gets better the further he strays from rock 'n' roll conventionality. But how do you market that?

Peter MurphyEssential links:

Peter Murphy: Website | MySpace
Lettie: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig,
find the bands by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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