Last Night At The Kessler, Peter Murphy Gave Dallas A Hauntingly Beautiful Show.
As I watched a time-defying Susan Sarandon barely contain her anti-Clinton vitriol in her stint as a Sanders proxy on The Nightly Show a few days ago, I found myself whispering “Dammit, Janet!” every time she said something sarcastic. If it were a drinking game, I’d have been happily buzzed by the end.
Yes, Susan Sarandon has gone full Bernie Bro.
So imagine my surprise when I saw her doing a little animal testing, ignoring vampire David Bowie (spoiler: a much-earlier screen version of him getting old, ill and dying) and making out with Catherine Deneuve in 1983’s The Hunger, which I decided this week was long-overdue for a re-watch. It’s timely enough in the face of Bowie’s recent and lamented demise — but that’s wasn’t the only reason I watched it. And, to be frank, I’d completely forgotten that Sarandon played one of the leads in it, too.
The reason for my revisit to The Hunger was, in advance of Peter Murphy’s show at the Kessler Theater last night, to try to verify if it was my earliest exposure to Bauhaus and, as such, to that incredible voice.
I certainly remembered that “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was in the film. I’d completely forgotten, however, that the opening sequences of the film are anchored by shots of Murphy singing the band’s archetypal proto-goth song.
Either way, the re-watch helped me remember why I fell so hard for Murphy’s stylings in the first place. Faced with a “Let’s Dance”-era Bowie, my ’80s adolescent mind clearly preferred Murphy to Bowie at one point, even if it’s now clear that Bowie was the greater genius. Point is, during y formative years, Murphy took up a deep and seemingly permanent residence in my head. Murphy’s surreal post-Bauhaus dalliance with Japan’s Mick Karn did nothing to dissuade me; even in its electronic weirdness, it held up just fine against the good but ultimately forgettable Jazz Butcher stuff put forth by his former bandmates. Then, after two duds of solo LPs, when 1989’s Deep dropped I was fully on board again. I’m sure there was probably some technical enhancement involved, but Murphy’s serrated baritone delivered the lowest, loudest human voice I’d ever heard when he toured on that record, which I saw at Lower Greenville’s long-missed Arcadia (whose ghosts now haunt the Trader Joe’s in its place). Ten years later, he and a reunited Bauhaus would rattle Oak Cliff’s Bronco Bowl (whose ghosts now haunt the Home Depot in its place) to similarly delicious effect. Since then, he has rolled through the Granada Theater (whose ghosts do not haunt but rather love themselves) a couple of times, and had one poorly-attended 2012 show at the Prophet Bar (whose ghosts are probably terrified of Deep Ellum’s ongoing gentrification).
So the chance to be rattled by Murphy at Dallas’ greatest listening venue, the Kessler (whose ghosts never moan, so as to make a point of following proper concert etiquette), was not to be missed. And it didn’t disappoint, either.
Murphy granted the sold-out audience — populated by people who (like me) were old enough to have been long-time fans — gifts from throughout Bauhaus’ short but dense discography. A room full of people mouthed the words to “Cuts You Up.” Murphy’s talented sidemen, multi-instrumentalist Emilio China and guitarist John Andrews, were models of quiet competence. Their cover of Bowie’s famously impenetrable “The Bewlay Brothers,” played in tribute to the late Mr. Jones, brought more than one person to tears.
There were some (non-Davies brothers) kinks to the show, mostly centered around issues with the monitors. Murphy started out the set by using hand-signals that doubled nicely as theatrics, but it soon became apparent that he felt something had changed since sound check (as happens when several hundred warm-blooded people fill a room that was near-empty and preemptively air-conditioned earlier in the day). But mostly, the show sounded great, like it always does at the Kessler. Several times during the show Murphy seemed to be able to displace his frustration by tossing and kicking around a stool, which the room accommodated with nothing more than a few raised eyebrows.
Earlier in the night, opening act James Hall — who may be as big a Dallas legend as you can get to be for someone who has never lived in Dallas, due in no small part to the decades-long support he’s received from another Dallas legend, Kessler artistic director Jeff Liles, the artistic director at the Kessler; he has played to rapt audiences in full rooms at almost every venue in town, and has even mined his touring band members (in the form of Course of Empire’s Mike Graff and Michael Jerome) from our fair city — shared his own genius, which seems to share DNA from Mick Jagger and Jeff Buckley as well as Murphy.
In all, it was a beautiful night in Dallas. And the ghosts of last night’s show should certainly haunt everyone in attendance for some time.