Formed back in 1978, the legendary and massively influential Bauhaus hailed from Northampton England, comprising of Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins. The band's goal was to get the F out of dodge and all things Northhampton, which according to Murphy had a "dead existence." The dark and foreboding music that they made together possesses far more force, variety and playfulness than the "Founding Fathers of Goth" tag that has been attached to them. Ironically like everything else in life, nothing is quite like it seems.
From the bleak outlook of life in Northampton, what we get in return is the brilliance of Bauhaus. In The Flat Field was the band's debut on 4AD records back in 1980, and well let's just say that the reviews were not all that pretty and positive. Andy Gill from Gang of Four, of all people, described the album in his review for the UK's NME as "Hip Black Sabbath.” That was written at the time as an insult.
Up to the present day, would reviews of this sort be accurate? On the contrary. The album itself is groundbreaking in scope- a dire prediction of surviving Northampton when you dig deep into it's bevy of abrasive songs. The songs themselves have been described as a "windblown sonic assault to the senses." A slow build that defines the genres of Post Punk and Goth, not subtle by any measure, but that was the point. Undeniably, In The Flat Field still holds up, making it that more exciting and pleasurable to hear the album in its entirety, as is the case on this current 40th anniversary tour of its debut.
On this tour, Peter Murphy is joined onstage with Bauhaus bassist extraordinaire David J, a remarkable songwriter in his own right, and these two together bring a compelling presence that revels in all things dark and purple. Rounding out the band is the brilliant Mark Gemini Thwaite on guitars, a musician's musician who has a history of playing with some heavy hitters such as The Mission, Tricky, and Spear of Destiny, to name a few. Let it be known that when Peter was introducing band members midway through their set, he stated "And on guitar, one of the best guitarists in the world- Mark Gemini Thwaite", and that should tell you lots. Peter definitely surrounds himself with extraordinary musicians, and that's also the case with Marc Slutsky on drums, who also provides the necessary backbeat that keeps Bauhaus music up and running and undeniably intact.
Looking at the four albums Bauhaus created over the small span of five years until they disbanded in 1983, you can't help but think of how immensely pleasurable they were as a band, like lightning trapped in a bottle. Ferocious and dangerous one minute and patient and beautiful the next. The perfect, unpredictable nature of a band with remarkable songwriters who dwell in performance art.
To have this 40th anniversary tour come to Chicago and play at the formidable Rockefeller Chapel on the grounds of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park only adds to the luster of this review and story. A monumental example of all things "Gothic.” Built in 1925, and without the use of structural steel, Rockefeller Chapel is meant to be the central and dominant structure on the campus. The ceiling height is immense, and upon first entering the church, you're struck immediately by its ornate beauty, and the massive stained glass windows facing both north and south. The church itself is equal in presence to the performance we're witnessing first hand with Bauhaus. The stage is set on the mantle of the church- up marble steps towards the north end of the chapel. A bit cozy for a four piece band, but still enough room for Peter Murphy to roam the stage and get all chameleon like to his devoted followers.
I'm still trying to take it all in from this performance, the overwhelming presence of this gorgeous church, and hearing the beauty of all things Bauhaus. To be sitting in church pews, on wooden planks, with a ceiling that's over a 100 feet high, and smelling all things vintage/exquisite...let's just say that Chicago is lucky on this tour to have Peter Murphy and David J of Bauhaus performing in this glorious venue. The show itself was relentless through the entire album of In The Flat Field, followed by a lengthy encore of Bauhaus classics, including the anthem of all things “Goth”: "Bela Lugosi's Dead", with a sinister and suave Peter Murphy playing the part of a vampire bat to the hilt. Again, hard to soak it all in- the church, the audience, the floor lit lights brazenly focused on all things scary Peter Murphy, all things be damned when it come to age. To hear the refrain of "Undead undead undead" over and over from that iconic song, with a slow and steady drumbeat, and David J's mesmerizing dead end bass beats....let's just say it still gives me chills, and the song could've gone over repeatedly for an hour and still be riveting. The first of two nights with Bauhaus at the Rockefeller Chapel, and it was mesmerizing to say the least.
A special night that you will remember forever if you were there. It was that good.
Words + Photos by Bobby Talamine