A film by Christopher Robin Collins. Recorded at the Old Vic Theatre, London in 1982.
Bauhaus: Archive 8.5
eyelights: the effective low budget special effects. Daniel Ash’s stage presence. Peter Murphy’s performance.
eyesores: the concert’s poor editing.
Bauhaus were an acquired taste for me. I first got their 1979-1983 compilations, not even both at once, and found myself doggedly trying to understand the appeal. When I first picked it up, I expected a more traditional Goth sound, à la The Cure or The Sisters of Mercy. Bauhaus were anything but: they are an alternative band (in the proper sense of the term).
I eventually got my hook: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, a live version for which was available on this compilation (for some reason, instead of the original recording). It was feral, atmospheric, dramatic, sinister and anthemic; its pounding rhythm got its claws into me and it eventually became one of my all-time favourite songs. With time, much of those two CDs grew on me.
I eventually got the VHS tape ‘Shadows of Light’ and sat there mesmerized, seeing the music made flesh. I played it many times over, finally converting into fanhood. When my local music chain threw all the Bauhaus remasters into their 2 for 20$ promotion, I tracked them all down. Then I found the live albums that I didn’t have. I even did a feature on them on my radio show.
But I never got ‘Archive’, the one period video that shows them in full glory on stage, writhing about before a medium-sized room of fans and the curious. I saw it in stores and even knew about its re-release on DVD with its companion piece ‘Shadows of Light’, but I never got around to it until recently, after watching ‘The Height of Goth‘. Then I pounced. I had to.
Why oh why did I wait so long?
‘Archive’ is a show that Bauhaus did at the Old Vic Theatre, on February 24, 1982, a full year and a half before breaking up. For reasons that escape me, it was released post break-up, in 1984, and in an incomplete form – with many parts of the concert excised to make room for some narrative bits about an old man being chased by a group of thugs.
But the show, what little there is of it (the total video length, including credits, is 38 minutes), is phenomenal. It shows the band in top form, energetic and striking, in a way that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. Driven by the enigmatic, magnetic Peter Murohy on vocals and Daniel Ash on guitar and sax, it was a show that left me reinvigorated after a long day.
I’ve since rewatched it.
Bauhaus are an unusual band. From the start Daniel Ash plays the guitar while cross-legged on the floor. At another point he brings out a saxophone. This is clearly not your usual Goth band. In fact, the music is full of dissonance, both in the instrumentation and in the vocals. This is typical of Bauhaus, however, and it’s why I don’t consider them prototypically goth.
The concert is broken into pieces by shots of the old man watching a projector, with the sound of the projector bleeding over the concert bits. Because the show isn’t integral, one moment Murphy has a coat, the next he doesn’t. Then he doesn’t even have a shirt. What happened in between? What songs are missing from this set? Is that documented anywhere?
‘Archive’, for what it’s worth, features ten songs – two are studio recordings, and the other eight presumably recorded live (although, given the exceptional sound quality, one has to wonder if there were any overdubs made in post-production – a technique frequently used with live recordings for all too many artists):
1. Lagartija Nick: This is the studio recording as a backing track for a video intro, which consists of an old man leaving a pub and being chased by three young thugs, at the turn of the 20th century. It’s somewhere between sepia and black and white and it’s very grainy. But it’s nice. What’s funny about this bit is how the man is walking but the young men, who are running, never catch up to him. He eventually arrives at some empty stonewalled building and finds a record player playing in a back room. Soon thereafter, a projector starts and the film begins. The old man watches, entranced.
2. The Passion Of Lovers: Kicking things off marvelously, Peter Murphy moves about the stage erratically, making faces and gesticulating wildly. How does he not sweat? Daniel Ash is very dynamic yet ends up cross-legged on the floor. Then gets back up. As will be the case for the remainder of the show, David J and Kevin Haskins have but ghostly presences.
3. Kick in the Eye: This song alternates between colour and grainy black white throughout. Adding to the pleasant style are freeze frames and missing frames, giving the show a jagged edge. Very nice.
4. A God in an Alcove: Murphy starts by prowling in place and then ends up dancing about with a strobe light in his hands, swallowing his whole head up in the light. Très cool. Sadly, the song ends abruptly.
5. Dancing: A dissonant piece that starts with Daniel Sax on saxophone, soloing away wildly. Again, not typically goth – a unique sound. Not a great song, but an original, maybe fascinating, one.
6. Hair of the Dog: Oh, so Peter Murphy’s wearing a g-string under his tights. Good to know. Thanks, Petey. He ends up spending much of the song crouched on the floor. Which doesn’t make him less captivating, somehow.
7. Stigmata Martyr: This one begins with Murphy trying to roll his abdomen like a belly dancer would. Not that he has a belly (at least not back then). He returns to his erratic self for the rest of the piece, thankfully. There’s this great bit when Daniel Ash looks like he just woke up and is wondering what the hell he’s doing there – an especially amusing moment.
8. Dark Entries: Murphy is mostly still while Ash is stumbling about; it feels as thought this is his song, his time to take over the stage from the band’s frontman. Maybe it’s not calculated, but it worked either way.
9. We Love Our Audience: I hate this song, despite the lovely arrangements; the chorus, in particular, makes me want to gouge my eardrums out. Murphy does this pseudo-ballerina dance at the beginning and the band ends up together at the front of the stage singing “We Love Our Audience”. Which should work. But it doesn’t. Actually, this is further cemented by the passive crowd of night owls just watching, utterly emotionless.
10. Sanity Assassin: At first a series of band pictures over a studio recoding of the song, it eventually gives way to the band playing to a small group of young men in a small, stuffed cellar somewhere, with shots of the band members in cages. Peculiar but interesting stuff. And a nice closing bit.
What sucks is that, while the DVD’s audio was remastered, the video wasn’t. The picture wasn’t anamorphic and it lacked definition. Thankfully it still looked pretty good – if only because the show benefits from not being polished. But I wonder why the producers didn’t take the time to fix this; I’m sure fans would have loved to get a beautiful version of the only show the band recorded in its heyday.
In fact, I wonder if someone might potentially go back to the source tapes and re-release the show in its entirety someday. I know that I would lunge at the chance of seeing the full set list: with the band phenomenal as they were that evening, I’d love to see a full document. I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone on that one; Bauhaus are an important figure in a musical movement that lives on today.
For all its blemishes, I ADORED watching ‘Archive’. This is exactly the kind of show I would love to see today: the perfect mood, the perfect performance, the perfect music. Even the perfect (for me) crowd. I am only 30 years too late. Goddammit. But at least I have this. A chaotic, post-punk document of an influential band in full glory, at the height of its powers.
Date of viewing: September 26, 2013