Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago, IL

[Photo: Paul Searing]

It was a packed house Friday night at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel in honor of Peter Murphy, the legendary Bauhaus frontperson currently on tour to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the band’s origins. Backed up by original Bauhaus bassist David J along with guitarist John Andrews and drummer Marc Slutsky, Murphy gave the crowd plenty of thrills over the course of a set that featured their pioneering goth-rock classic In the Flat Field in its entirety, along with classics like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” “She’s in Parties,” “Kick in the Eye,” “The Passion of Lovers” and more. An especially welcome second encore rounded out the evening with “King Volcano” and “Kingdom’s Coming,” both from the last Bauhaus album, Burning from the Inside, as well as a cover of the Dead Can Dance song “Severance” from their 1988 album The Serpent’s Egg. Despite recent reports of Murphy as a volatile performer, he was on his best behavior, providing strong, sinewy baritone vocals throughout the generously portioned set and conjuring all the romance and menace one associates with his band’s legacy.

Before Murphy’s arrival, the eager throngs were treated to two opening acts, a brief three-song set by self-proclaimed “queer witch” Vinsantos, based out of New Orleans, and a considerably longer set by London-based psych-rock trio Desert Mountain Tribe. Together, they provided a suitable stage-setting for Murphy himself, Vinsantos with a cabaret-inspired, melancholic mood not without its moments of humor, and Desert Mountain Tribe with a muscular sound that is impressively layered for being produced by only three people. Each member of DMT brought force and conviction to his playing, especially their frontperson, who is gifted with an impressive set of bona fide rock pipes that a broader audience deserves to hear.

Once Bauhaus took the stage, Murphy had the crowd in the palm of his hand for the duration, reacting to his every contortion. Going into the show, several concertgoers were musing aloud as to whether his vocals had held up, and by the end there was no doubt that they had. Graced by dramatic lighting throughout, the band provided a vivid reminder of what a landmark group Bauhaus was, especially considering how brief a time they were originally together (just five years). And while, in a “perfect” world, all four would still be together, Andrews and Slutsky more than proved their mettle, with Andrews capturing the piercing, fragmented “anti-guitar” sound and Slutsky providing pummeling, cascading drums over the course of the evening, well-paired with Murphy’s volcanic delivery. And David J’s impeccable tone proved, as ever, that it matters a great deal who plays the basslines, even if they don’t look complex on paper.

Rockefeller Chapel is becoming one of Chicago’s best places to hear and see a show, especially thanks to the merciful absence of the sorts of things one encounters at more traditional rock venues, like people talking obnoxiously over the whole show. And it served as an appropriate setting for Murphy and the music of Bauhaus, whose profane demeanor belied a core of sacredness in their uncompromising and enduring sound.

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