Live Report: Bauhaus

9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., September 7, 1998

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Bauhaus may have billed their global reunion trek as the Resurrection Tour, but it's actually more like the Second Coming. The majority of the assembled faithful -- a bizarro mix whose apparel signaled either sex shop employee or librarian (and the odd sex-shop librarian) -- were barely out of training pants when Bauhaus called it quits back in 1983. But the performance of goth's main progenitors was no mere re-hashing of a by-gone era: The veteran band that took the stage had all of the energy of a kicking newborn.

After several teasing minutes of loud, ominous rumblings, a black curtain parted to reveal a large rectangular video portrait of singer Peter Murphy at center stage. Flanked by the black clad David J on bass and Daniel Ash on guitar, Murphy's image implored "I dare you to be real." As rock theater goes, it was brilliant.

Murphy bounded onto stage in person for "In The Flat Fields," to thunderous applause and hollers. Freeze-framing in the glare of the lights, he clearly understood his own iconography, and allowed the crowd to absorb every last drop of it. Striking pose after pose, he pranced and stalked the stage with all the refinement of the Grim Reaper in Gucci.

Musically, the band was air-tight. Ash's guitar work was stunning, angular and cutting during "Flat Fields," while his sax was as sexy as it was disjointed for "In Fear Of Fear." Kevin Haskins and David J's rhythmic backbone gave the songs their dark heft as well as propulsive groove -- especially evident in "Kick in the Eye," and the spy-themed take on "Sanity Assassin."

The structure of the performance was well-paced, with the goth drama implied more than overt. However, the haunting beauty of "Hollow Hills" was enhanced by a scattered string of dangling light bulbs. Glowing and fading as Murphy ducked and danced around them, they resembled large, otherworldly fireflies.

Throughout the show, the band drew upon the influences of their collective past and present. A stripped-down cover of Dead Can Dance's "Severance" gave way to a Bowie-esque version of "Boys," Murphy preening with a black boa and mirror. A wonderfully poetic "She's In Parties" was dismantled into a dub bass rumbling with Murphy singing the Doors' "Riders On The Storm."

But it was in their encores that the band pulled together the allegorical aspect of the show, paying homage to the icons whose stories and influence made Bauhaus a reference point themselves. Returning to a demanding crowd, the band sent waves through the hall with a buoyant version of Iggy Pop's "Passenger." Without stopping to catch their breath, they sailed into a blistering cover of Marc Bolan's "Telegram Sam." With the air crackling with energy, Bauhaus gave the people what they wanted -- a resplendent rendition of "Ziggy Stardust."

The evening's only low point was the final encore, a needlessly long twelve-minute version of their opus "Bela Lugosi's Dead." After an evening of subtleties, Murphy's acrobatics excluded, the sight of the singer swirling around in a cloak and shroud was beyond obvious and almost embarrassing. Still, far from casting a pall on the stellar performance that preceded it, the image served to show that Bauhaus' future depends as much on the present than the past.