Thursday, January 3, 2013

Peter Murphy concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

photo, from 2008, by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally appeared at

When it comes to stage presence, few acts can rival Peter Murphy.
The veteran Goth rock pioneer captivates fans with dramatic gestures, spinning, graceful swan-like movements and uniquely quavering vocals at every turn. All were on full display during a packed Constellation Room performance Saturday night - the first of two special concerts within the Observatory.
Murphy and his three-piece band did 1989’s “Deep” in its entirety and then returned for an all-Bauhaus set on Sunday. He has only done “front to back” album shows twice in Southern California this year (this was the Orange County debut). A couple diehard fans traveled down from San Francisco to catch the rare gigs. One guy was even dressed up as a skeleton conquistador; a young child near the stage was clearly enjoying the event.  
Constantly dissatisfied with the sound levels, Murphy admitted to having a cold (which made his usually low baritone gruffer than usual and at times, grating). But those problems didn’t detract too much from the riveting performance. Murphy had plenty of interactions with the band and after signing a fan autograph, mockingly withheld it for money. 

Clad in black leather jacket and pants, the singer’s return visit to the Santa Ana venue commenced with the dark chugging rocker “Deep Ocean, Vast Sea.” After the splendid “Crystal Wrists,” Murphy lost his place in the set and joked, “What’s the order of the album? God only knows.”
Before starting a lovely 12-string guitar driven “Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem,” the singer commented on the recent school massacre in Newtown, Conn. by saying he was against automatic machine guns, referenced the Mayans’ end of the world theory and dedicated the tune to victims and parents affected by the tragedy: “We ask the universe to grant intelligence to those that won’t use it.”
Through the years, several songs from Deep, Murphy’s most successful stateside release, have always been part of the concert. Still, a few tracks made their live debuts in 2012. The scintillating, Asian-influenced “Seven Veils” (featuring a sharp electric guitar solo by Mark Gemini-Thwaite) was among them. 
Elsewhere in the 90-minute show, “Cuts You Up” was strong (Murphy’s signature alt-rock hit was prefaced by a Bauhaus rant: “If one of them said we want you to be our singer again, I’d tell them off”), “Cascade” included mesmerizing spoken word segments, “All Night Long” soared, the placid “Gaslit” contained frenetic violin stabs from the bassist and songs from 2011’s solid studio album “Ninth” rocked furiously.   
Half the crowd stuck around to watch Murphy close the proceedings with an epic “Your Face,” from 2002’s “Dust” album, his collaboration with Turkish artist Mercan Dede.

Peter Murphy, Constellation Room at Observatory, Santa Ana, Dec. 29, 2012
First set: Deep album > Deep Ocean, Vast Sea/Shy/Crystal Wrists/Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem/Seven Veils/The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth/Cuts You Up/A Strange Kind of Love/Roll Call
Second set: Cascade/All Night Long/Velocity Bird/Memory Go/Gaslit/The Prince & Old Lady Shade
Encore: Your Face
On the setlist, but not played: I Spit Roses, Uneven & Brittle

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