By Ziggy Merritt
Wednesday evening marked Peter Murphy’s stop at Underground Arts for his current “Stripped” tour. The live set promised a number of Murphy’s hits from both his Bauhaus heyday and his equally impressive solo career, rendered with minimal percussion and a more keenly acoustic touch.
With high expectations, I had only the tiniest shred of apprehension for the ‘stripped’ tag. From experience, I know this can go one of two ways, with some unplugged performances robbing songs of their fire. Fortunately, this was not the case here. While the audience was vocally disappointed by the lack of an encore at the end of the night’s proceedings, in my mind, the hour-and-a-half of enthusiasm that Peter brought to the intimate setting more than made up for any lingering sentiments of unmet expectations.
It was certainly entertaining whenever a request was called out from the audience, only to be met by an absent-minded though humorous “fuck off” from the man himself. From his brawny catalog, he naturally belted out enchanting versions of staples such as “Indigo Eyes” and “A Strange Kind of Love”. A noted exception was “Cuts You Up.” Though in the midst of middle age, the voice that originally recorded these hits has resisted any signs of wear. Even his more vocally demanding cuts such as the same “Indigo Eyes”, the cover of Iggy Pop’s “Sister Midnight”, and the brief yet satisfying break into “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” all felt alive with the raw power of Peter’s expressive bass.
Throughout the hour and a half there were few times where I was not transfixed by the inimitable gesturing that fit the performer’s collective songwriting mythology so well. Hands crowned his head for the unexpected rendition of “King Volcano” from the 1983 album Burning from the Inside, while on tracks like “Silent Hedges” his eyes would gaze through the basement ceiling as if nothing was there. Viewing him live for the first time, it’s hard to imagine anyone more comfortable and at ease on stage, whether sitting down or touching the heads of the few pressing against the platform.
As the curtain closed on the performance, I immediately paged through some of the highlights, which, while numerous, presented themselves in the touted “stripped” aspect that defined the tour. “Marlene Dietrich’s Favourite Poem” and “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything” naturally lent themselves to the acoustic proceedings, yet some of the more emotive in Peter’s cross-catalog felt just as fresh. “Hollow Hills” ended up taking the crown as the night’s most haunting number, capturing the essence of what Murphy embodies as one of alternative rock’s most versatile and eccentric personalities.
Despite everything that would build this up to be the ideal live experience, issues in the sound beyond the band’s control more than occasionally crept up, noticeably stinging the ears whenever it did so. But I wasn’t expecting or asking for total perfection; that would be a particularly naive error on my part. Instead, what the night amounted to was nothing less than the best Mr. Moonlight had to offer.