When I said all I wanted for my birthday was Peter Murphy, I meant the tall, gaunt “Petah” of the early-1990s with bleached hair and the haunting voice that made me melt on my fifteenth birthday. As 30 approaches, I got a slightly different Peter Murphy—a pudgy, unshaven, yet still bleached-mopped Peter in what I swear was a gray bath robe, not a trench coat. But that voice, that voice still penetrated every corner of the new House of Blues in San Diego with the same ethereal appeal.
26 May 2005: House of Blues San Diego, CA
I expected the House of Blues to be filled to the brim with pasty faces and vinyl, but the goths were sparsely distributed. The concert lacked the usual gothic flair that is expected from the former Bauhaus frontman. Still Murphy’s animated performance, in the small venue, perfectly showcased the new album, Unshattered, which could certainly be described as less depressing than his prior work.
While I heard several people complain that Murphy was focusing on the new material I didn’t hear them talking trash later as they clamored to touch him. With the intimate setting, the responsive audience seemed to care more about getting close to the singer than what was actually going on onstage.
While overall, Murphy seems to be moving away from his earlier Goth days, he still manages to make every single person feel like they are the only one in the room. While he must have touched (literally) at least 30 people in the crowd, I heard more than one gushing about how Murphy came right to him. I was too busy trying to snap photos without being caught to grab Murphy’s hand the first two times he reached into the crowd near me, but I was grazed on the third pass, I swear.
I’m sure there was a band on stage. In fact, I know that the touring members of that band are drummer Justin Bennett (Skinny Puppy), guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite (Tricky, The Mission), and bassist Jeff Schartoff (Human Waste Project). They accented Murphy’s voice perfectly, while remaining quite non-descript on stage.
While the majority of the show sounded marvelous and kept everyone dancing, the four song encore proved to be the highlight of the evening. With lyrics in hand, Murphy belted out “Lust for Life” (my favorite Iggy Pop song for dancing) before “Hit Song” (my favorite Peter Murphy tune).
Of course, Murphy played “Strange Love” and all the others one would expect. He also pranced around like he was slender and happy, totally betraying his unkempt look—and contradicting the hypnotic bat imitation he did at the Bauhaus show earlier in the month.
So for the second time in my life I got Peter for my birthday, and this time the House of Blues gave me a personal experience I will never forget. Having moved to the reserved balcony seating for the encore, I watched as Murphy hardly sang any of my favorite songs but still managed to make the few he did sound just like the album (to be fair, “Hit Song” does have many, many layers of vocals). The security guard helpfully told me that I had drunk too much and in fact was not witnessing any lip-syncing—I believe.
Honestly, as any Peter Murphy fan will tell you, as long as his voice wafts and crawls through the crowd, it really doesn’t matter what else is going on in the room.