Saturday Night: Peter Murphy At Numbers

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Peter Murphy Numbers March 19, 2011

The way the main man of a solo act walks out onto the stage says a lot about the kind of show you're going to get. Some beg for accolades, some are utterly indifferent. The word that came to mind as Murphy took center stage, flanked by his band, was control.

Control and perhaps regality. Murphy seemed to merely take the applause as his due.

It's easy to forget that the basis of goth, punk, and a dozen other subgenres is simply rock and roll. No matter what heights of experimentation or pure psychedelia an artist may indulge in sequestered in the studio, once they take the stage and the rhythm of the music takes hold even the man who gave us "Bela Lugosi's Dead," is every bit a pillar of pure rock as Mick Jagger. The question is what you cut the liquor with.

The early part of the set was energetic, and our prayers were answered when Murphy delivered new material from the forthcoming album Ninth, such as "Peace of Each" and "Velocity Bird." Though we're going to suffer in the comments for this next statement, we have to admit that we enjoyed Murphy's new material more than almost anything he did on Saturday - three songs total, including "Prince and Old Lady Shade," that are out on iTunes today.

Part of the appeal of the new material's appeal is the strength of guitarist Mark Thwaite. Thwaite remains the Man with No Name of goth guitarists... sort of the Bruce Kulick of the eyeliner set. He's been in The Mission, Combichrist, Imperative Reaction, and a dozen others, including a longtime member of Murphy's touring bands.

After the show, Thwaite told us that as a big fan of Murphy's former Bauhaus partner Daniel Ash, he has struggled to add the hard popness that Ash brought to his later projects to compliment Murphy's modern work.

The result, mixed as always with Murphy's razor-sharp esoteric accessibility as a singer and lyricist, has us more excited for the new album than any goth album in the last decade. It stood toe to toe with the rest of his oeuvre, and we'll fight you over that opinion if we have to.

Once the early set was over and we'd gotten enough pictures of Murphy's lithe form of Murphy, we snaked our way up to the old catwalk at Numbers that houses an almost useless spotlight. Oh, the light still works, but the club's mirror ball sits directly in front of it and cannot be lowered or raised except manually on a ladder.

It's dusty up there, and probably unsafe, but it was pure heaven to sit with a God's eye view of the capacity crowd and watch Murphy work.

Five songs in, Murphy cut loose with "Silent Hedges" from The Sky's Gone Out. It's when he dips into the Bauhaus material that you really get a handle on what created the genre of goth - darkness, hopelessness, and the utter beauty of pure desolation.

When Murphy sings those old songs, his famous baritone carries an unholy echo that messes with the rhythm of your heartbeat. When we die, wherever we go, we imagine that the voice of welcome will sound enough like Peter Murphy to make us accuse a psychopomp of poserdom.

You may wonder about the energy of a 55-year-old goth-rocker. Look, the signs of age are there. We're not trying to draw you a picture that doesn't exist. Murphy is not the bleach blonde vampiric statue from the "Cuts You Up" video. He is something better than that... he's real. He's done what so few artists seem to manage to do with a larger than life image, and that is simply make it fit who he has become.

Control, remember?

"Subway" followed, a comfortable mixture of his two released versions and thankfully not the epic length of Dust. Then came something wonderful, as Thwaite and Murphy stood alone on stage to tackle Trent Reznor's "Hurt." Before you ask, no, it's not as good as Johnny Cash's. Cash owns that song until everyone who's ever heard it is dead.

However, Murphy clearly likes to channel the original rather than the now definitive Cash recording, lending the emptiness that fills auditoriums to something that is already one of the most depressing compositions in pop.

We loved it, needless to say.

The down time in the set continues with Deep cuts like "Marlene Dietrich's Favorite Poem" and our personal favorite, "Strange Kind of Love." He remained at perfect ease with the audience, joking with fans, allowing them to grip his legs, and occasionally dipping down to lightly kiss his more rabid female fans.

The audience demanded no less than four encores, and of course "Cuts You Up" brought the house down. It would be impossible to overstate what we saw during that brief 90-minute set. We saw the most powerful front man we have ever seen.

Aftermath didn't leave Numbers until they were locking the doors, and gathered around the tour bus was a group of increasingly desperate sounding women. A manager held them at bay despite the pleas, and as we passed them we could see the silhouette of Murphy slumped exhaustively in a seat. We bet he was thinking of his home in Turkey and his waiting family, and decided against pressing for an introduction.

Let him rest, we thought. He's earned it tonight.

Personal Bias: The man is responsible for fully half of everything I enjoy. Yeah, I was a little biased.

The Crowd: Half goth, half Katy soccer moms. Numbers was missing some of its more prominent personalities due to New Beat being free admission over at Etro. Apparently, we were the only one who hadn't seen Murphy live before.

Overheard In the Crowd: "I would totally wear a burka for that!" She was talking about Murphy's Muslim faith and the prominent bulge in his pants, and we do mean prominent. NASA has named shit smaller than what he's apparently packing.

Random Notebook Dump: The lord of all goth is hopping. I too shall hop.

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