What a difference a name makes. Playing just last year under the guise of celebrating 35 years of Bauhaus, Murphy had sold out the joint, playing to a sea of black fishnets and guyliner. Tonight there were MAYBE 150 people in attendance to hear what turned out to be a rather solid run through some of his newest material. Having forgone a tour in support of 2011’s so-so “Ninth” in order to trot out the Bauhaus (and armed with tunes from the just-released and far superior “Lion”), Murphy’s set drew largely from his latest works. Opener “Hang Up” roared with the same authority as it does on the new album, Murphy’s voice hoarsely but definitively bellowing in his upper register over the slash and throb of his crack backing ensemble. New guitarist Andee Blacksugar is a far less-textural player than his predecessor, goth mainstay Mark Gemini-Thwaite; his guitar crunched like a young Daniel Ash, giving the newer material a heavy, glam feel. Sprinkled amidst the new material were a couple of older gems like “Cuts You Up” and “Deep Ocean Vast Sea” and the obligatory Bauhaus stuff (a brisk “Silent Hedges” and a version of “She’s In Parties” that meandered into dub territory). To his credit, the newer stuff sounded more vital than the older material, even if it was tougher to sing along with. The songs were good, the band was fairly tight (after some early drum issues) and Murphy himself sounded better than he has in years, but ultimately the set came off as more respectable than incendiary. Perhaps it was the crowd, or the less-than-balanced setlist, but something seemed “off”. Even still, it was a fine set.
On the other hand, Austin-based openers Ringo Deathstarr blew the place away with a mixture of volume and melody. Trading vocals throughout, bassist Alex Gehring and guitar-terrorist Elliott Frazer sounded like the bastard child of Swervedriver and Small Factory. Sweet harmonies were drowned in waves of Jazzmaster guitar squall and bends and the insistent throb of Gehring’s bass…the band brought a fresh spin to heavy shoegaze and psych without sounding like slavish imitators. They were loud, thrilling and a welcome surprise! (And, quite frankly, they showed up the headliner - sometimes overdriven amps and passion speak louder than melodrama.)