Hammerstein Ballroom, New York City • September 11, 1998
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Undead Undead Undead”
One could say the same thing about the band who had their biggest hit with this song. Bauhaus, the genre-defining gothic band of immeasurable influence, have resurrected themselves after fifteen years of dormancy. What started out as two shows in Los Angeles blossomed into a national tour as passion for the thought-to-be-long-dead legends smoldered, burned and then caught on like wild fire. The chance to see a band whose records soundtracked my early 20’s wasn’t a chance I would have missed for the world.
Inside the Hammerstein Ballroom, the atmosphere was electric with the excitement of a highly anticipated concert event, woven into a visual tapestry of beautiful goth girls, stunning vampire boys and a general assortment of costumed freaks the likes of which I’ve not seen in one place so many months shy of Halloween. There was a feeling of something akin to real magic alive in air.
The lights finally dimmed and a video monitor became visible center stage, as the black and white visage of Peter Murphy appeared on the screen. Kevin Haskins (Drums), David J. (Bass) and Daniel Ash (Guitar) had already crept on stage. Appropriately, they chose to open with “Double Dare,” the same tune that starts off their new Greatest Hits compilation, Crackle, released this past July. “I dare you” Murphy growled from the screen, “To touch the flickering flames/ The pangs of dark delight.” And what a buffet of dark delights our senses did attend that evening: Bauhaus put forth a most dramatic and emotionally satisfying show. After the opening number, Murphy emerged in the flesh, as the evening took an emotional trajectory spanning the career of the most influential band dark music has produced. As spotlights hit the stage from the rigs above, what had at first appeared to be a flat black back-drop became transparent, revealing a three dimensional metal gridwork that gave Bauhaus the appearance of performing in some kind of futuristic landscape. Adding to the high theatrics of the evening were many costume changes, with Murphy and Ash at one point sporting matching lame jackets and feather boas.
Murphy chose to deliver the quietly beautiful “In Fear of Fear” from the photo pit just in front of the stage. Safely separated from the adoring throng, he touched hands of those closest to him, yet a sea of arms rose to the air, stretching out in his direction, almost as if it were possible to touch him by the remote power of will alone. The yearning — the feeling of connection between Murphy and his audience — was palpable. I realized for the first time that the signature eeriness of the plaintive “Hollow Hills” is achieved by Ash drawing a violin bow across the strings of his guitar. Suspended, glowing light bulbs dropped down one at a time as Murphy strolled contemplatively about the stage, flickering from darkness to light and back again as Murphy touched or gently pushed them. The effect was like a gathering of large fireflies had found their way to the stage.
After this stunning display of gloom it was time to shift into high gear with two upbeat classics, the herky-jerky “Kick in the Eye” and “Silent Hedges,” which features the endlessly interpretable lyric “Going to hell again.” A cover of an obscure Dead Can Dance song, “Severance,” pleased the crowd, followed by the meditation on the dual nature of fame, “She’s In Parties” and the frenetic “The Passion of Lovers.” They had played just over an hour when they disappeared, only to return with an encore of the band’s two well-known covers: T Rex’s “Telegram Sam” and Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” A second encore, “All We Ever Wanted (Was Everything)” and “Spirit” — representing an expression of gratitude with the repetitive chant “We love/We love/We love our audience” — was not unexpected. When they returned a third time with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”- the song 90% of the audience was there to hear anyway — that should have been it. Bauhaus had already given 100%. But as the crowd began to slowly file out, Murphy reappeared onstage. “This is the last time we’ll be in New York” he said. The band wanted to do something special for an occasion not to be repeated. The final offering of the evening was a faithful rendition of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.” It seems that Bauhaus is alive and well, never better, and living in the hearts of the many fans they’ve touched this summer with their strangely life-affirming brand of rock music. Back from the dead, and bigger than ever.