Those of us who grew up as fans of punk and alternative music always have our radar up, and as a result, we can sense a sellout a mile off. When, for example, David Bowie claimed before a tour a few years back that he was playing his old songs live for the last time, we bided our time--and when he went back on his word, we felt that our cynicism about old-time rockers, as well as our preference for the supposedly more trustworthy younger breed, had been more than justified.
The Nineties, however, have shoved such smugness straight up our asses. With each passing year, more and more acts that drowned in the early-Eighties torrent caused by new wave crawl back onto the beach--not just crummy/silly outfits such as A Flock of Seagulls and Modern English, but the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks and plenty of other combos whose members likely spent much of their primes ridiculing their elders for doing precisely the same thing. Worse, the reasons for these get-togethers have absolutely zilch to do with art. As money-making opportunities, they operate on a smaller scale than cash-ins by the Eagles, but because that's practically the only difference between them, fans are left with two choices--either to denounce as heretics the groups they once loved, or to rationalize such decisions and jump onto the nostalgia bandwagon.
The throng that gathered on August 24 at the Mammoth Events Center for the Bauhaus "resurrection," as the quartet's publicists have termed it, obviously picked the latter course. The line curling around the venue before showtime was a symphony in black--the favorite hue of goths, who view Bauhaus (vocalist Peter Murphy, guitarist/saxophonist Daniel Ash, bassist David Jay and Jay's brother, drummer Kevin Haskins) as the patron saints of their movement. A sizable percentage of the ticket-holders used this color scheme subtly; they figured that black T-shirts, black trousers and black shoes were enough to establish their loyalty. But just as many did the full gothy, covering their faces in pasty-white death powder that contrasted nicely with their black lipstick, black eye shadow and black hair. David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower, who was at the concert with former Horsepower bassist Keven Soll, was among those sporting dyed follicles, and although he didn't alter his look just for Bauhaus (he's worn his hair this way for a couple of months), he fit right in with those who did.
I couldn't say the same; I was clad in the duds I'd worn to work that day--battered Reeboks, a pair of raggedy shorts and a brown-and-tan Indian Springs Water company work shirt that once belonged to "John." But despite the inappropriateness of my gear, I wasn't ostracized by the faithful, who were too busy complimenting long-lost pals on their costumes to bother with me. Far from staring at their shoes and oozing gloom, most people in the capacity crowd seemed in downright chipper moods. This was the first Bauhaus tour since 1983, when the then-five-year-old collective split, and converts and new recruits alike had plenty of worshiping to catch up on. In other words, it was Halloween in August, and when the lights went down, the huddled mascara'd started shrieking like prepubescents at a Hanson gig.
Bauhaus responded to this atmosphere by providing as few surprises as possible. After several minutes of ominous synth noises grumbled through the speakers, the curtains rose to reveal Haskins all but hidden behind his drums, Ash (his hair blacker than black) bumping hips with his guitar, and Jay in dark glasses and dark clothing that left him resembling the right-hand assassin of a villain in a Die Hard movie. Murphy, for his part, was seen first on a video monitor in high-contrast black and white--and when he finally capered onto the stage, his half-turtleneck top and shiny black pants left him looking like the bastard son of Adam West and Burt Ward. He seemed largely unharmed by the cryogenic process that had apparently maintained him in suspended animation for fifteen years. But as he bellowed out his lines amid modern-dance-derived gestures and stage moves of the sort Jules Feiffer has been parodying for ages, I couldn't stop laughing. I was the only one, though.
It was hard to say whether the music was any good or not due to the Mammoth's famously lousy acoustics. A co-worker who was at the show informs me that the sound was good in the bleacher seats at the back of the room, but for those on the floor, Jay's bass rumbled over every other element, leaving Ash's guitar and sax virtually inaudible, Haskins's drumming inconsequential and Murphy's self-consciously Bowie-esque warbling all but unintelligible. Murphy compensated a bit with five wardrobe changes, including one done on stage behind a black drape held aloft by two crew members; when he emerged, he stared lovingly into a hand mirror he held while primping his hair and applying eyeliner. (Now that Murphy's 41, his fondness for makeup is really starting to pay dividends.) But as the set wore on, it became abundantly clear that Bauhaus's compositions aren't really songs; instead, they're slabs of sound knitted together with theatricality. The approach worked passably on "Bela Lugosi's Dead," which Murphy delivered from deep inside a monk's cloak--but it's no coincidence that the audience responded with more excitement to a cover of "Ziggy Stardust" than to any of the band's own tunes.
Even with a lengthy intro and three encores, the Bauhaus date was over just ninety minutes after it began, but no one I saw seemed pissed off at the band's take-the-money-and-run mentality. That's because many of the veteran gothers present weren't cheering for Bauhaus as much as they were for their own lost youths, when they'd spent uncounted hours alone in their rooms moping about being beaten up by the football players at their high schools because of their fondness for rouge. They'd survived those terrible days with the assistance of their Bauhaus LPs, and the fact that Bauhaus had returned was a cause for celebration--or at least a fine excuse to take their carefully pressed goth garb out of their hope chests one more time. Makes you kind of misty, doesn't it?
New in book stores is the Visible Ink publication MusicHound Lounge: The Essential Album Guide to Martini Music and Easy Listening. Edited by former Boulder journalist Steve Knopper, it features the writing of frequent Westword contributor Jack Jackson, who promised to wax my car if I mentioned his name in print. I'd like a double coat, Jack.
I was at the Fox Theater on August 20 to hear Grant Lee Buffalo, Neil Finn, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt play for radio bigwigs in Boulder to attend the Gavin A3 Summit. What sticks in my mind as much as the consistently entertaining music is a question posed to me by a laminate-wearing programmer--the type of guy whose job is to share his musical expertise with the public. During Nelson's showcase, which featured a band put together by Yberproducer Daniel Lanois, the guy sidled up to me, pointed at the silver-tressed Emmylou Harris, who was providing background vocals, and asked, "Who's the blonde?"
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And you wonder why so many radio stations bite. On Thursday, August 27, Zeut and Chautauqua park at Herman's Hideaway, and Loudon Wainwright III blooms at the Denver Botanic Gardens. On Friday, August 28, Bonnie Phipps and the Elastic Band try to avoid the caiman during a free show near the pavilion in Washington Park; Creed is part of KBPI Infest '98 at Red Rocks; S-Fro-7, Worm Trouble and Space Team Electra gather at the Outlet, a new warehouse space on Old West Colfax (call 820-2568 for directions); A.F.I. bids Good Riddance at the Aztlan Theatre; and Jim Yelnick hosts his "6th Annual Wig Party," a quasi-rave where toupee-wearing is encouraged, at the 15th Street Tavern. On Saturday, August 29, Wanker does a Bill Clinton at Cricket on the Hill, with Martha's Wake, and Denise Mangiardi celebrates the release of a new disc, River of My Own, at Larimer 21. On Sunday, August 30, Cindy Williams portrays Shirley (or is that Laverne?) at Shakespeare's. And on Wednesday, September 2, 34 Satellite, featuring former AUTO-NO drummer Kirk Moore, orbits at the Cricket. Far out.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.