Bauhaus, The Academy, Manchester

Let's have a nice big frown, please
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The Independent Culture

There's a reason why Bauhaus have not been accorded their due place in the critical canon of post-punk, and it has everything to do with the fact that they had cheekbones. In their all-too-brief career (1979-1983), Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins were as likely as Gang of Four to experiment with white funk ("Kick in the Eye"), as able as PiL to try dub reggae ("She's in Parties"), and as important as Joy Division in reshaping rock itself (Ash's knives-on-sheet-metal guitars). But fatally, Northampton's finest didn't have faces that looked like potatoes.

Actually, perhaps there are two reasons why Bauhaus have been excised from history. Nowadays, we're uncomfortable with seriousness. It's been replaced by earnestness (which is not the same thing), coupled with a chummy down-to-earthness (in its way, even more pompous and patronising than the naked narcissism of the Bauhaus generation). You'd never catch Chris Martinor the feller from Kubb saluting their adoring fans from an open-topped Merc, and pop is poorer for it. Their role model isn't Bowie. It's Phil Collins.

Bauhaus, of course, were Bowieists to the core. It takes a specific temperament to bellow lines such as, "the passion of lovers is for death... SAID SHE!" and "alone in a darkened room... THE COUNT!", and Peter Murphy had it. There are few things so amusing, as a band with no sense of their own ridiculousness, and Bauhaus displayed no sense of humour whatsoever. This is something to treasure. Many times tonight, I find myself chuckling at something they do, but a split second later, I'm ashamed for it. However, two decades on, Murphy seems conscious of the absurdity of a 48-year-old man channelling his 21-year-old self. Returning for one of three encore segments, he asks for a spotlight by intoning, "I demand overhead illumination", in a campy thespian voice. He's in on the joke, and I'm ever-so-slightly disappointed.

It's not the only thing to have changed. Since the last comeback in 1998, Murphy's hair has depleted into a monastic tonsure, as if blown away in a bizarre wind-tunnel accident during a remake of that famous Maxell commercial. His sidekicks still wear sunglasses at night, and Murphy - heedless of the cautionary words of Corey Hart - masquerades with the guys in shades. Boy, does he masquerade. Murphy's repertoire includes countless variations on the child's trick of holding a torch under the chin to create a "spooky" face..

But the sound Bauhaus make at full-pelt - notably "Dark Entries", and a cover of "Transmission" that's actually better than the version New Order are playing these days - is still viscerally thrilling. And, as he travels his lyrical landscape of fields, silent hedges and hollow hills, Murphy's delivery - by turns callous, vain and shrill, sonorous and booming - remains one of the great gothic voices.

For the encores, it's all frock coats and furs. After their inventive staccato version of Bolan's "Telegram Sam", they rattle through their Xerox of Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" (regrettably, Bauhaus's greatest hit). Brilliantly, they mess with our heads by cutting it short without completing the cathartic "and Ziggy plaaayed guitaaar!" ending, saying a peremptory Anne Robinson-style "goodnight" and walking offstage, only to return after a five-minute costume change to finish the song.

The costume in question, for a finale of "Bela Lugosi's Dead", is an extravagant black batwing cape, swirled around balletically by the singer. In the shadows of its capacious folds, I can't see whether Murphy is laughing. But I know I am.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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