Peter Murphy has been a solo artist far too long to be described as “the Former Bauhaus frontman.” He left all that behind a long time ago, some would say as far back as when he was hospitalized for pneumonia during the recording of the final Bauhaus album.
These days Murphy is still an exceptional performer. His early days were more aggressive; he was possessed by the energy of a very young man struggling to find his voice. Bauhaus was his creative birthplace. When Murphy began performing under his own name the early, unfocused energy grew refined and concentrated. Peter Murphy clearly needs to be taken straight, without a mixer.
His Chicago performance was a good representation of his career since going solo, and it’s amazing how strong his earliest work sounds (Cuts You Up, The Line Between The Devil’s Teeth) back to back with his latest material. The show was powerful and well rehearsed; not a single bad note or missed cue, including choice of the opening act.
Sarah Fimm opened for Murphy sounding an awful lot like an early Sarah McLaughlan-for about sixty seconds. After that, comparisons weren’t useful any longer, her songs are little worlds by themselves, occupying the same space as Tori Amos.
That said, her compositions are unique and strong. Her lyrics are more enjoyable than Amos’s, thanks to a nicely understated delivery. Her voice is another part of the ensemble, supporting the composition instead of overpowering it. Fimm doesn’t clutter, she applies just the right amount of paint on her musical canvas to bring out the image, and no more.
Fimm wrapped up her set with thanks to a very supportive Murphy who has taken her under his wing on this tour, including bringing her on stage during his own set.
Murphy has a strong ego, but there’s no trace of one-upsmanship with him-He walked away from Fimm at once point during a duet to give her some time alone in the spotlight. It was an impressive gesture a lesser singer wouldn’t be capable of doing.
It’s obvious Murphy enjoys the powerful songs in his repertoire, but his real passion is for the slower, moody pieces. Murphy would be right at home performing side-by-side with the Legendary Pink Dots or even Roger Waters.
His voice is amazing and shows no signs of age whatsoever. Murphy still has a bit of a David Bowie hangover-at one point he sang acapella “I’m not afraid of Americans”. It was difficult to tell if he were poking fun at Bowie or making a statement about his interests in Islam in the wake of the American war on terror. Either way, it was a wry moment, but telling.
The opening strains of “Cuts You Up” started an energy at the Metro the rest of the show didn’t quite have, and it seemed as if Murphy was about to launch into a powerful set, but the momentum didn’t last-the band went offstage, came back for the encore but went into a set of slower pieces.
Murphy has a lot of power when it comes to mid-tempo energetic songwriting, it’s a shame he concentrated more on the down-tempo cuts because the audience was clearly ready for something rousing after the classic ‘Cuts You Up’.
Many people with as much stage time as Murphy show signs of wear and tear-the energies are lower, the passions muted. Not so at the Chicago Metro.
If Peter Murphy is slowing down with age, he is doing it in private. His voice is still clear and strong even after many years of hard use in recording studios and smoky venues. Whatever he is doing to keep going after such a long career, it is working well. Murphy continues to put on an excellent show.