Two great concerts within four days of each other in Hannover? Seems impossible, but it just happened.
Artist: Peter Murphy
Location: Hannover, Germany
Date: 18 October 2009
Opening Act: Lettie
01. Burning from the Inside (originally performed by Bauhaus)
02. Velocity Bird
03. Peace to Each
05. Memory Go
06. Instant Karma (John Lennon cover)
07. In Every Dream Home a Heartache (Roxy Music cover)
08. Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem
09. Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It
10. Too Much 21st Century (originally performed by Bauhaus)
11. The Prince & Old Lady Shade
12. Deep Ocean Vast Sea
13. Uneven & Brittle
14. A Strange Kind of Love → Bela Lugosi's Dead (originally performed by Bauhaus)
15. She's in Parties (originally performed by Bauhaus)
16. Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie cover)
17. Transmission (Joy Division cover)
18. Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
After how long the line was when the doors opened when I saw Porcupine Tree with Robert Fripp just three nights before, I was surprised to be about the fifth person to enter the venue just after doors opened for Peter Murphy. Sad but true: Murphy isn't exactly as famous as he could be. By the time he actually hit the stage, there was a respectable audience, probably in the area of 200 people.
First, however, came Lettie. She came out by herself, grabbed her Fender Stratocaster, and started playing tunes with something of an ethereal new-wave vibe. She had a second microphone loaded with extremely heavy reverb and delay that she would sometimes switch to. She slowly integrated a loop pedal, a keyboard, samples, and a friend who came out and played some sort of electronic keyboard instrument. (It must have been some sort of synthesizer, but he used it to create fairly noisy, ambient melodies, if you can imagine that.) On one hand, Lettie isn't a great singer, the songs are fairly simple, her dancing was kind of awkward, and the whole act just felt a bit loose. But on the other hand, the music was interesting and she has a definite charm. The whole deal felt a bit retro, in a good way. Honestly, she kind of reminded me of my own performances, or maybe those of The Cure from their earlier days.
Peter Murphy came out accompanied by a standard rock trio: guitarist, bassist, and drummer. Considering Murphy's history with Turkish-influenced music, acoustic ballads, and more ambient textures, I wondered what sort of array of sounds he'd pull off through the night. I had no worries about hearing his gothic or alt-rock personas, and indeed, the opening song was a classic Bauhaus rocker. Even though "Burning from the Inside" isn't one of Bauhaus's more instrumentally impressive tracks, I couldn't help feel that the band wasn't entirely capable of filling the shoes of Murphy's first band. Daniel Ash's complicated picking patterns and David J's tricky basslines were not to be found here.
Nonetheless, Murphy was able to rock out rather well, introducing several new songs along the way. I'm not sure about all the titles; he's debuted about five or six new songs over the past tour. Although Murphy supposedly has an album in the works, this tour is labeled the Secret Cover Tour, inspired by a series of covers that he is releasing as singles in the meantime. His website makes it clear that there will be four, but only the first three have been thus far released: "Instant Karma", "Space Oddity", and "Transmission". The first is something of a surprise to me, but Murphy pulls it off fairly well. Murphy has long been a Bowie fan; Bauhaus released their fantastic cover of "Ziggy Stardust" in 1982, and he's been playing "Space Oddity" live since 2002. "Transmission" is also no surprise: Murphy played it live with Bauhaus in 2006, and later in the same year he performed four other Joy Division covers in a radio broadcast with Nine Inch Nails.
Murphy graced us with all three covers, along with his long-time favorite "Ziggy Stardust" and the surprise "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" (likely to be the fourth single). Considering his known idols of Bowie, Ian Curtis, Brian Eno, and Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry isn't hard to picture as well, but John Lennon is still a surprise to me. A good surprise, but I wouldn't have guessed it. The Roxy Music cover was also performed very well, with Peter playing the eerie keyboard part. [Edit 2014.08.01:
By now it should be well-known that the fourth single was actually a
cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", recorded with Trent
Reznor in a radio session in Atlanta in 2006.]
I have to admit, though, I felt a bit let down when Peter left the stage the first time. Where were all his hits? I was disappointed by his choice of two inferior Bauhaus songs, and I don't think Murphy was in top condition – "Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It" and "Deep Ocean Vast Sea" both felt weak and tame. The new songs were fairly good, the covers were good, and "Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem", complete with Peter on his 12-string guitar, was great, but I knew he'd have to do a solid encore to make up for the lesser parts.
Indeed, returning for the encore with the 12-string, Murphy started off again strongly with a great version of "A Strange Kind of Love", with the lyrics to "Bela Lugosi's Dead" appended to the end. It was a bit weird, just a bit dissonant, but it mostly worked, although the two sets of lyrics have nothing in common. "She's in Parties" was awesome and finally got the crowd moving. "Ziggy Stardust" was similarly well-performed (although, again, the guitarist was no Ash, let alone Mick Ronson!), and "Transmission" was the clear peak of the night – the crowd was way into it.
Covers can be a tricky business. Murphy has generally done a surprisingly good job of taking songs from his idols and tweaking them just a little bit to suit his fancies. Most of his covers don't sound that different from the originals, but his distinctive voice lends his versions their own unique flavor. That was certainly the case with "Transmission" – he sang it incredibly well, as opposed to the version he released as one of his singles, in which he tries a bit too much to sound like Ian Curtis and in the process ends up a bit off-key.
However, his take on "Space Oddity" confuses me. Instead of the psychedelic, transcendental pop of the original, he does a string-synth-laden ambient version that kills the folky funk of the bridge break and thus looses the driving momentum of the original. Apart from that, his version is good – it drops the whole folk feel and focuses on the spaced-out, thoughtful mood of the song. Live, though, he sang the words to his recording after he and his band sank to the floor. Weird. All four of them just lay there with the lights dimmed. I didn't see Murphy move at all – he might not have even been singing. And afterwards, they got up, said thanks, waved, and left. Confusing.
I remain surprised by the lack of his hit material – where was "Cuts You Up" or "Gliding Like a Whale" or "Indigo Eyes"? I suppose those songs might have been a bit complicated to perform with his setup, but I'm confident that he could have done it. And where were the funkier songs, like "Kick in the Eye" or "Final Solution"? Assuming his musicians were up to it, they could have really rocked those. In any case, I think Murphy was a bit off on this night, and the song choices were interesting but still left something to be desired. The covers are a decent idea, but I'll be curious to see how his new album turns out.
Peter Murphy: C+