eyelights: Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Hollow Hills. Mask. Peter Murphy’s voice and showmanship. Daniel Ash’s look. the grainy, gritty look of the videos.
eyesores: Rosegarden Funeral of Sores. the poor quality of the source material.
‘Shadow of Light’ is a 40-minute compilation of videos and live performances by cult alternative band Bauhaus. It was released in 1984, after the band’s break-up. Personally, I didn’t know of its existence until the latter part of the ’90s, when I found it in the window of a store called Acme Music Company (or something along those lines – it’s been a while). I got lucky, really: it’s the only place I’ve ever seen it, although another local store had a different edition.
By then I had picked up the two volumes of the Bauhaus compilation ‘1979-1983′ on CD. I had mixed feelings about them, and was hardly a convert to Bauhaus’ music. And yet I was transfixed by the videotape in the storefront every time I passed by it. I mulled it over for weeks, if not months, before eventually deciding to take a chance on it; I was rather disappointed by my experience with Bauhaus thus far and was unsure that I wanted to invest more money in this seemingly futile pursuit.
And yet, amazingly, ‘Shadow of Light’ is what helped me reconsider them.
I started playing the tape as background noise while I chatting on the telephone; I would put the volume high enough that I could hear the music, but low enough so that it didn’t interfere with my conversations. And so it was that I would stare at the images on my screen whilst deep in conversation. I enjoyed what I was seeing and repeated the experience a few times, slowly beginning to think that maybe Bauhaus were far more awesome than I initially thought.
I think that what made the difference is the gritty, moody, DIY nature of the videos, combined with the band’s feral, nearly-punk vibe: these guys had an unmistakable edge, and it was perfectly captured on tape. What I once considered chaotic and erratic on the compilation CDs, I began to see in a new light: as the natural expression of four guys who didn’t give a crap about form, who explored their various impulses and recorded them for all to hear.
It made them very intriguing. It created a mystique.
The programme begins with the iconic Bauhaus logo followed by a shot of Peter Murphy bowing wildly on stage with a spotlight in his face. It’s all in slow motion, with the title appearing briefly. This was my first look at the band, which was accompanied by the beginnings of the live version of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
1. Bela Lugosi’s Dead: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is one of my all-time favourite songs. At least, this live version is: the studio version is incredibly different and I had been accustomed to the live one for years before ever hearing the studio one. A “Tomb Raider mix” of the song was released in recent years which recaptures this live rendition, however.
In any case, to me, this is the ultimate Goth anthem. As much as I’m a much more significant fan of The Sisters Of Mercy and The Cure than Bauhaus, there’s no denying the power of this track: it’s atmospheric, chaotic, feral, creepy, vibrant, hypnotic. The lyrics are simple, but listen to Peter Murphy’s vocals on this: they’re blistering, emotional.
The video is a live performance taken from the same concert shown in ‘Archive’ – as are all the live clips on this programme. For some reason, the show was picked apart for these two releases, never to be released in full. It’s a real shame because it would be amazing to watch this show unedited. Perhaps someday, with enough fan pressure, we’ll get to see it.
We’re on stage with band. Murphy is in heels, slowly, theatrically, approaching mic. He eventually moves the mic stand to stage right. Light shines in his face; he hides it with coat, vampire-like. David is in a grey suit with sunglasses. Daniel Ash has his hair spiked, eyebrows plucked, is made-up, with lines down his arms; very goth, gorgeous. Murphy prances/prowl around the stage, does a few theatrics during the instrumental part. Listen to that voice! unfortunately, it ends abruptly, not letting us savour it in full. 8.5/8.0
2. Telegram Sam: This is a cover of the T-Rex song, which I’ve never heard before. It’s a short, chaotic, primal song. In the video we find Murphy in white face, like an evil mime, lurking about a basement boiler room. The band is playing in a bricked up space, where there’s a dancing shadow on the wall. There are also shots of Murphy stuck between two walls, trying to get out, panicked. It ends with Murphy holding onto a chain, struggling with it. It’s a gritty, grainy video that suits the band very well. 7.5/8.0
3. Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores: This is a cover of a John Cale song. While Murphy’s voice is at its best here, I don’t like this version – I prefer the studio version. The video consists of more stage footage from the Old Vic show. It’s grainy, hissy. In it we find Murphy doing suggestive model-like poses and thrusting his hips. During the endless raucous instrumental passage, he hangs from curtains, collapses on the floor, only to crawl on stage when it comes time to sing again, One of the highlights for me is watching Daniel Ash doing short bursts of growling at the mic; it’s feral, powerful. 4.5/6.0
4. Mask: This is a chaotic song, but I quite like it. There’s this terrific guitar passage at end that brings light into an otherwise dreary track. Very nice. It’s weird in a good way. The accompanying video is appropriately eerie. It’s all shot at night, there are shots of the nighttime sky, a house in the forest, the band members wandering in the dark, and a cadaver on a wooden shipping pallet. The cadaver (Murphy) reanimates, comes back to life and shakes himself off throwing dust in all directions. The one image that sticks with is that of a ghostly, creepy face in slow motion. It’s scary, iconic. 8.0/8.5
5. Spirit: This video takes place in an old theatre, with the band playing to a few people in the balcony, including a ghostly woman who walks away, but later returns, haunting the shadows. There’s a juggling clown. That’s pretty much it, aside for the performance and Murphy doing his make-up. I must say that Bauhaus looked great when professionally lit. “Spirit” is a decent song, but I hate the end of it when they sing “we love our audience” repeatedly – especially here on stage, surrounded by clowns. Ick. 6.5/8.0
6. In the Flat Field: Another chaotic, edgy, noisy song. It’s another live rendition, and it also pales in comparison tot he studio version. But listen to that prolonged singing by Murphy. Wicked. The performance shows Murphy dancing manically, crazy, possessed. There are also a few shots of the crowd, but there’s otherwise not much else to it. And yet it’s really good. 6.5/8.0
7. Ziggy Stardust: This is a cover of the David Bowie classic. This rendition sounds very close to original to me. It’s good, but it’s hardly my favourite Bowie track in the first place. The video is shot in an underground space, with the band playing while punks and goths are ushered in, eventually mobbing around stage. There are also shots of Murphy in a cage. It ends with a stage dive and Murphy being carried off by audience. The vibe of the video is very primal – too much for song, actually. It’s contextually inappropriate. 7.5/7.5
8. Hollow Hills: This is such an atmospheric song; it’s one of my favourite Bauhaus tracks. This is a live rendition at the Old Vic. Initially, there’s very little light on stage aside for a light in Murphy’s face; the rest of the band are in shadows, in the smoke. Eventually we can see them properly, doing their thing. This version of the song seems to finish too early; it was edited abruptly, based on the sound of the crowd fading out. Hmmm… too bad. 8.0/6.0
9. She’s in Parties: This is the last of Bauhaus’ singles, to promote their final album. It’s a bit slick for them; it’s clearly designed for radio, unlike most of their output. I’m not that keen on it, or its companion album for that matter. The video is mostly black and white, featuring shots of the band in a very cold, poorly lit space. There are also inserts of a faucet dripping, a lady chauffeur standing in front of a limo, and a woman’s hand in lingerie. There’s the use of shaky cam, lots of flashing lights, creating an appealing atmosphere. It ends with Bauhaus in the back seat of the limo being chauffeured away. It’s not just contextually appropriate, but it’s an excellent video, all things considered. 6.75/8.0
I ended up playing ‘Shadow of Light’ many times over, reconsidering Bauhaus further as time went on. Naturally, I eventually decided to get their albums.
Spurred on by a 2/20$ sale at the local HMVs, I tracked down their four studio albums and the ‘Crackle’ compilation (featuring the original studio recording of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”). Ever the completist, I also made a point of tracking down the ‘Rest in Peace’ 2CD concert album, ‘Swing the Heartache’, the compilation of BBC session, and ‘Live in the Studio 1979’, a rehearsal CD that was only released with the Bauhaus book ‘Beneath the Mask’. And others. Anything I could get, really.
In exploring Bauhaus, I discovered that the ‘1979-1983’ compilations, while extensive, were woefully inadequate in presenting their music, serving as a poor introduction. It was truly in the context of their albums that the songs blossomed: this was a time when albums mattered more, when they weren’t just a collection of singles or a few hit singles and filler. These albums were conceived with a flow and atmosphere in mind, something that the individual songs couldn’t possible recapture, bereft as they were on ‘1979-1983’.
I became a fan. I loved even the B-sides and out-takes, which were added at the tail-end of the CDs, as bonus tracks (I even played all of those B-sides on my radio show when I did an extensive feature on Bauhaus). When the first two albums were re-issued as multi-CD sets, I ordered them along with the rarities disc ‘…And Remains’. And, naturally, I bought their reunion studio album, ‘Go Away White’. I even recently rebought ‘Shadow of Light’ on DVD (along with ‘Archive‘), after watching ‘The Height of Goth‘.
All this thanks the chance I took in buying that video tape over a decade ago. Frankly, that tape changed everything for me. I am not only a fan of Bauhaus now, but have also been interested in Peter Murphy’s solo output (and have seen him live). I highly recommend ‘Shadow of Light’ to anyone remotely curious to discover Bauhaus in all their unpolished glory. It’s raw, it’s gritty, but it’s an excellent first taste of this extremely influential band.
Date of viewing: September 17, 2014