"A Gathering of Pop's Dark and Moody Division"
Ever been caught in a room with a bunch of intensely serious
people? Chances are your you'd find a bunch of heavyweight
conversations, and meet at least one guy you didn't get along
with. If you were lucky, you might wind up striking up a
That was roughly the mood at last night's Orpheum triple-bill, a gathering of pop's Dark and Moody division. Tom Verlaine was the unapproachable one, who had a lot to say but proved too withdrawn to say it. Representing the obnoxious crowd was Englishman Peter Murphy, former leader of Bauhaus. Finally there was the Church, an Australian quartet who made it all worthwhile.
Peter Murphy's hour-long set was without exaggeration, one of the silliest things we've seen on a rock n' roll stage - unless one buys Murphy's sex appeal, which many of the fans seemed to be doing. Here we had narcissism bordering on self-worship: one would never guess there were so many cool ways to stare into a spotlight, or so many tortured-artist expressions one could assume. The set built slowly to that grand, climactic moment when Murphy.... TOOK OFF HIS SHIRT!
All right so how about the music? A lot of lurches and drones, one reasonably catchy tune (his hit "Indigo Eyes"), and a vocal style crabbed from David Bowie's "Low" period. He does have a great taste in covers, though: after his versions of Magazine's "The Light Pours Out of Me", Pere Ubu's "Final Solution", and Iggy Pop's "Funtime", one started to think that Murphy's group might make a good new-wave cover band. Then his version of Prince's "Purple Rain" made one think that no, maybe they wouldn't.
Best part of Tom Verlaine's set: during "Let Go the Mansion" he was surprised by a pack of Church roadies, who struck up a chorus from stage left while he looked on with a puzzled expression. Verlaine is something of a saint on the underground circuit, after masterminding one of the New York new wave's finest albums (Television's "Marquee Moon") and a number of intriguing solo LPs. He hasn't played Boston since 1982, but last night he didn't really play here either. The set was a five-song, 20-minute quickie, and the songs didn't always translate to the solo-acoustic format - too many mumbled vocals and scaled-down guitar parts. A decent preview at best; now let's have Boston get a proper Verlaine set.
Commercial success agrees with the Church: their hit album "Starfish" keeps the best aspects of their previous six releases - the shifting moods, sense of foreboding and hints of elation - but meets the audience halfway, with some grabbing pop hooks. In the past they've tended to drone on stage, saving the high volume release for last. But last night's opener, "Constant in Opal" (nice pun) thundered from the start, and most songs had the best of both: deep thought and cheap thrills, trancey melodies and guitar flights.
They've also developed personalities within the band, so the two guitarists (Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper) integrated their parts better - with Wilson-Piper usually building atmosphere and Koppes blasting away. Wilson-Piper's vocal on the fractured rockabilly Spark" also contrasted nicely with singer/bassist Steve Kilbey's moodier style. Individual tunes stood out - the folkish "Under the Milky Way" and the tense rocker "Unsubstantiated" - but the songs also flowed together in a thoughtful, satisfying way.