Back in black
LOS ANGELES--Heading north on Highland Avenue, 7/10/98, 8:49 p.m.: En route to first Bauhaus show in 15 years. Thought: If most recent spate of high-profile band reunions has proven anything, it's that phenomena of simpering nostalgia and artistic desperation are not unique to any specific generation. Used to be that reunion tours were only undertaken by one certain subspecies of swine: Brief hit-maker from '60s or '70s. Slouching toward sentimental middle age. Failed solo careers and bit parts on The Love Boat.
But now start adding Jane's Addiction. Sex Pistols. X. Younger, influential bands. Bands that once made it their business to depose such crustacea. People pretend newer groups not doing exact same thing as oft-mocked predecessors. People wrong. No new material, not much else going on career-wise, rehashing past glories. Bad dog. Bad. Only remaining difference between Jane's Addiction and Herman's Hermits: Herman's Hermits no stink up Fair Park Coliseum last year.
And now Bauhaus. Archetypal goth band. Born in England, based in L.A. Responsible for numerous gloom-and-doom standards. "Bela Lugosi's Dead," et al. Responsible for turning Joy Division into caricature. Responsible for inspiring rabid following that grew exponentially in years after band's 1983 breakup. Responsible for almost reuniting once before, when singer Peter Murphy declined invitation of other three band members, who then formed Love & Rockets. Responsible for almost 20 years of bad fashion among suburban teenagers.
Not responsible for many good songs.
In weeks leading up to L.A. shows, Bauhaus offers up usual platitudes about imminent reunion. "We are artistically motivated and extremely excited," guitarist Daniel Ash says when shows announced. Few weeks later during an interview, singer Peter Murphy adds, "It's not like we're just cashing in...The music is actually feeding us now." Indeed. (Members of Bauhaus decline interviews for this column. "Too busy.") No mention of Murphy's imperfect solo career. Of Love & Rockets' forthcoming LP Lift (comes out this fall; actually quite bad). Of anything relevant. All told, almost enough to make you appreciate Sex Pistols. At least had decency to admit "reunion" equals money, ego.
Bauhaus shows do promise one thing: Goths. Lots of them. Carnival of black clothing, pale faces, vampire teeth, magic wands, tortured souls. Would not do to attend show in everyday street clothes. Question No. 1: How to distinguish oneself at concert where both band and audience are consumed with fashion, generally of dark, brooding, "sinister" variety. Question No. 2: How to also make some kind of point, however mild, with said outfit, or at least make frowners smile. Answer:
1. White, '80s-style tennis shorts.
2. Long-sleeved, collared, white Izod pull-over (alligator intact), with green short-sleeved Izod underneath (collar turned up).
3. White tube socks and tennis shoes.
4. Generic silver tennis racket, two strings broken, borrowed from friend who purchased it for $1.
5. One new Penn-3 Extra-Duty Felt tennis ball, in left front pocket.
Hollywood Palladium (exterior), 7/10/98, 9:02 p.m.
Security Guard: "Sorry, chief. Can't let you in here with that tennis racket."
Me [mentally fumbling bad joke involving words "killer backhand"]: "Uh...please?"
SG: "Nope. Gonna have to stash it somewhere."
Three minutes later: Racket stashed in corner of nearby parking lot. Back at front of line. About to be frisked.
SG: "OK. Empty your pockets onto this table."
Penn-3 tennis ball extracted from left pocket, placed on table. Attempt to wrest wallet and keys from right pocket interrupted when SG sees tennis ball.
SG [motioning toward entrance]: "Never mind."
Palladium (interior), 9:28 p.m.: Band not on yet. Place teeming with freaks. Best getup: guy with ornate Hercule Poirot mustache (painted on) who's sporting eye patch, plastic jacket, scarf-cum-tie, knickers, and white wing tips. More typical: guy in tight leather bodysuit, white face-paint, purple lipstick, and dog collar, accompanied by girl laboring around wearing lingerie-type situation made of chain mail. Etc., etc. Everybody in black.
Walking around tossing tennis ball to self. Hardest of hardcore goths can't be bothered to notice. Too busy standing around not smoking. Everyone else notices. Much whispering among passersby. Heads shaken. Snickers snooken. Nobody gets it. Exception: Endearing woman in black dress. Leans over and says, "Like your outfit. Been meaning to dig out my Lacostes." Another exception: Co-worker who shows up with Lady Friend. Lady Friend's opinion: "Jesus. You're like the biggest freak here."
9:40 p.m.: Show begins. Operative phrase: "fog machine."
9:55 p.m.: Three songs so far: "Double Dare," "In the Flat Field," and "God in an Alcove." (First three songs off first Bauhaus album. Symmetry!) No difference between them. None. Zip. Boom-boom drums. Chuga-chuga guitar riffs. Arch, theatrical, baritone vocals. Bass inaudible. Lyrics inaudible. Point inaudible.
9:57 p.m.: Peter Murphy: "This isn't rock and roll. This is resurrection!" Not joking.
9:58 p.m.: Thought: Peter Murphy looks and sounds pretty damned good for a 41-year-old.
9:59 p.m.: Thought: "Is that a tennis ball, or are you just..."
10 p.m.: Thought: Daniel Ash wearing some very, very tight pants.
10:20 p.m.: Last few songs sound like first three. Bored. Decide to find and confront a hardcore goth. Must get information. Must get ass kicked. Must get something. Find one standing in back. Tall, androgynous character wearing skirt and what looks to be an amulet. Almost certainly calls self "Geldar."
Me: "Enjoying the show?"
Me: "Big Bauhaus fan?"
And so on.
10:50 p.m.: Crowd cheering for encore. Band been offstage unusually long time. (Future column idea: Encores equal lame.)
10:52 p.m.: Band back on. Shocker. Playing Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." Best song yet. Not good sign.
Palladium (exterior), 11:30 p.m.: Show over. Sucked. Closed with "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Tennis racket abandoned when two steakheads seen pissing in its general vicinity. Parting shot from drunk concertgoer: "Hey, this ain't Wimbledon, man!" No. This is resurrection!
Bauhaus performs September 22 at the Bronco Bowl.
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