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Goth dignitary Peter Murphy transmits dark message at the Riot Room

06/23/2014 9:57 AM

Bright colors and broad smiles were scarce at the Riot Room on Sunday. More than 200 people, most of them wearing black and many sporting thick eyeliner, gathered at the Westport venue for a performance by the goth dignitary Peter Murphy.

As the front man of the British band Bauhaus, Murphy inspired an upheaval in music and fashion.

Beginning with the 1979 Bauhaus hit “Bela Legosi's Dead,” Murphy has served as the unofficial ambassador of all things dark and dreary. His music provided a crucial link between the '70s glam rock of David Bowie and the industrial attack of '80s and '90s bands like Nine Inch Nails.

His thinning hair aside, Murphy still resembles a casting director's idea of an ideal lead in a sinister vampire movie. He's gracefully evolved from a subversive punk misanthrope to a suave rock crooner.

Aside from his striking appearance, Murphy's most valuable asset is a luxurious voice that conveys ruinous decadence.

He applied the evocative instrument to 14 songs in a disappointingly brief 65-minute set. Much to the consternation of fans who shouted requests, “She’s In Parties” was the sole Bauhaus song on the set list. The extended instrumental dub segment appended to the 1983 single by Murphy and his solid but somewhat characterless three-piece band was impressive.

Murphy made a strong case for the merit of his extensive but largely overlooked solo career.

He sang the dissonantly slithering “Low Room” while staring at the Riot Room's low-slung ceiling. The arena-rock of “Memory Go” was convincing while the acoustic-based ballad “A Strange Kind of Love” provided a welcome respite from the electrified gloom. The portentous “Eliza” was the strongest of four selections from Murphy's new album “Lion.”

The show began with a 40-minute DJ set by Cinemaphonic. The locally-based duo manipulated malevolent new wave and industrial rock from a perch behind an auxiliary bar while images were projected on a scrim in front of the stage. Ringo Deathstarr, a trio from Austin, spent 45 minutes reviving the rock sound that dominated college radio playlists in the '80s. The output of Cinemaphonic and Ringo Deathstarr was clearly indebted to Murphy's music.

Even so, Murphy never enjoyed commercial success commensurate with his status. It was bittersweet, consequently, that Murphy concluded the evening with a faithful reading of Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." While fans responded rapturously to the cover, the song was precisely the sort of breakthrough hit that continues to elude the distinguished antihero.

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