STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Peter Murphy called what’s going on with him right now “a chaotic settling in period.”
It’s the early part of an unusual “Stripped” acoustic tour, backed by guitarist John Andrews and violinist Emilio China. The deep-baritone, British alternative singer — best known for his MTV “120 Minutes” hit “Cuts You Up,” and the perennial Halloween playlist song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus — had played seven shows in eight days, selling out three of them.
Add his April 20 show at Philadelphia’s Underground Arts to the sold-out list. However, there’s an April 17 concert at The Chameleon Club in Lancaster where you can catch him.
These are the first appearances Murphy’s made since the death of David Bowie, who was an indelible influence to the extent of covering “Ziggy Stardust” with Bauhaus in the ‘80s and “Space Oddity” as part of his “Secret Covers” singles series on iTunes that was released in 2009.
On Jan. 11, he tweeted from @petermurphyinfo: “Rest in the lap of compassion, David Bowie. I’ll find his resting place to hand back this stardust borrowed. Prayers of love to you & your family.”
Guarded about specifics of the “Stripped” sets — saying only that the trio would cover his catalog “like a collection” — Murphy said it’s possible he will pay musical homage to Bowie. Murphy commented that he found it “endearing” and “very impressive” how discreet the iconic singer was about his illness, and thought Bowie would have frowned on the fans’ dramatic expressions of grief.
The “Stripped” live presentation he described as intense yet graceful, “taking things to another place,” “a discovery of the songs within another interpretation” and “as accessible as a Sinatra or an Elvis performance.”
“You’re listening to each other, and there’s a breath in the performance,” he said of being on stage with “excellent acoustic player” Andrews, and China, who adds electronic treatments to his violin, like symphonic and keyboard sounds and “interesting, abstract soundscape parts.”
On the tour, some fans have taken advantage of upgrading their tickets to include a meet-and-greet with Murphy and the band. “They’re very endearing. I try to give people their money’s worth by being with them,” Murphy said of the face-to-face interaction.
The producers of “The Twilight Saga” movies slipped in a subtle tribute to the gloomy goth imagery of Bauhaus and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by casting Murphy as The Cold Man, “the father of all the vampires,” in the film “Eclipse.” “I’m brilliant in that, in my 15 seconds,” he said, laughing. “The (inside joke) wink of it was like a bookend.”
First released in 1979, the world got the full “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” experience in the opening sequence of the 1983 horror film “The Hunger,” starring David Bowie and Susan Sarandon. “My performance (on camera) was as important as the song,” he said of being chosen by director Tony Scott to be the band playing in a corner in a club. “That found its niche. It was a square peg in a square hole.”
Murphy and his wife have lived in Istanbul since the early ‘90s, and it sometimes shows in the music he’s made since then. “I’ve lived there so long, I’m Turkish,” he said, with a smile in his voice. “People imagine it’s kind of Middle East, like Syria. It’s a peaceful place to be.” Istanbul’s religious diversity and tolerance has much to do with the city’s “warm, connected culture,” Murphy said.
It’s also why he’s dismayed by “self-interested ignorance” and “knee-jerk fear mongering” in the West.
When asked what music he was listening to, Murphy mentioned Brian Eno and one of his recent opening acts, the Portland band Swansea. “Bands and artists don’t have, I fear, the opportunity to develop … and yet they do, in their social media community,” he said, adding that Portland has a music scene good enough to rival that of 1990s Seattle.