Going to Hell Again

@ San Francisco’s Warfield Theater
October 26, 2005

Druids call this time of year “the fading,” when the world of the invisible comes closest to our waking, breathing lives. The time is ripe for retrospection and one last indulgence before the long winter. The corpse of legendary goth rockers, Bauhaus, resurrected from almost a decade of divorce to perform and record again, came to S.F.’s ornamentally old-fashioned Warfield Theater for 3 shows. Newspapers blew down dark alleys of fog, while a shadow army of nocturnal San Franciscans gathered to see not a fading but a revival. They came dressed in their blackest black with their make-up, boots, cloaks, and scarves, ready to relive a bit of the romance that was the 1980s pop-Victorian vogue. I don’t think many of the nightwalkers were disappointed by this exhibition of reunited rockers.

Never having seen Bauhaus when they were at their peak due to having just been born, this was a grand treat for me. From the videos and live footage I have seen, this original Bauhaus line-up still had all the decadence and theatrics of their youth. With Peter Murphy’s resonant wooden voice echoing through the velvety balconies like smoke over a fresh grave, the band went through all their simplistic, yet precise popular favorites. Almost all of their hits were replayed in album-perfect form – “Hollow Hills,” “Kick in the Eye,” “Hair of the Dog,” “Stigmata Martyr,” “In the Flat Field,” “God in an Alcove,” and most of the material really, excluding “Spy in The Cab” and “St. Vitus Dance.” Sadly, they skipped the very embodiment of Halloween, “Double Dare.” The list goes on to include a long, brooding version of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” for their first encore, with Peter Murphy tweaking a metronome gadget with polyphonic clock tock samples. For the obligatory second encore, they rocked through “Slice of Life,” “Telegram Sam,” and ended with Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” The theatrics were inconspicuous compared to Peter Murphy’s encore entrance, where he descended to the stage hanging upside down like a bat, for their Coachella Festival reunion in May, but the lighting made for a chiaroscuro effect that complemented the audiac mood eloquently.

Some would say Bauhaus has always been too basic, with their moody, distorted, and reverberating riffs, but their driving rhythms distill the essence of imaginative dark poetry from the political and psychic wasteland that was the dominant 80s culture. Daniel Ash’s chromed-out guitar reflected beams of light onto the ceiling that danced like demons while he surgically buzzed through the droning, then crackling tense chords. What was most pleasing to see was the absolute skill of Kevin Haskin’s bombastic/intricate rocksteady drumming melded with David J’s teeth-rattling bass lines. What makes Bauhaus most unique might be the lack of rock guitar solos, which lets the bass provide melodic lead, alternated with focused, danceable beats.

Bauhaus played the roles of poetic rock stars perfectly, with Peter Murphy pacing the stage, hands pantomiming, in a black suit with glittery red undershirt. David J, with bleached short hair, vampiric red-lensed shades and matte-black slim bass looked dressed to kill, and Daniel Ash, in floor-length black leather cloak with sleeveless shirt was like some S&M ancestor of Trent Reznor. In the rear of the stage was an elevated square of sewer grating, lit from underneath, where Peter Murphy sang, “Hollow Hills” in reverse spotlight and Daniel Ash switched to sax to belt out some crazy free jazz squeals. The show was held together visually by the dramatic lighting in the almost completely dark theater. An absinthe stage light bathed the band on “Passion of Lovers” and “Stigmata Martyr” was illustrated by dots of bloodred beams. Oddly, the crowd seemed detached from the hypnotic drumbeats and flashes of strobe. My theory is that the hardcore fans either went to the first show or were waiting for the Halloween show and this set was for the leftovers. I would have been dancing like it was my first and only time to see Bauhaus (which it most likely was) if only I had upgraded my tickets to the pit; the balcony seats were very steep, close and hard on the shins, but provided a grand panorama.

Bauhaus are “undead, undead, undead, undead.” Cinematically immortal on stage, they all seem to have been born to play the rock star role into retirement without the wrinkles and contrived posturing of other reunited seminal bands. Peter Murphy’s voice is still young and some of the notes he held were unholy in the most eerie way. My only criticisms would be that it was bad taste to end with “Ziggy Stardust,” and that the slowed-down version of “Terror Couple Kill Colonel” was off-balance and strained. Even though it is a great cover, it just seems rude to do a Bowie song like “Ziggy” as your finale when he is still active.

Even so, I left feeling wooed as I wove my way through the most fashionable denizens of the night. Overall, it was really quite kind of them to play 3 nights at the more intimately sized and baroquely decorated Warfield Theater, instead of playing one huge show at an arena with video monitors instead of curtains. Usually, I hate reunion tours but Bauhaus have the energy to put on a fabulous show and, hopefully, their new album will have the same austere aura. If presented with the opportunity, any Bauhaus fan should view this exquisite corpse.

Enjoy your Samhain, you never know, it may be your last.

- Joe Martinez

Joe Martinez is a regular contributor to Turntable & Blue Light.