Murphy has one of the most unique voices in music and he, like Frank Sinatra or Bryan Ferry, knows absolutely how to use it.
I’m not a huge fan of live albums, as too often they fail to impress. Half of them seem to have been released to massage the artist’s ego (listen to those cheers), fulfill a recording contract, or prove that they were there. There are exceptions, of course: Cheap Trick Live at Budokan, The Who Live at Leeds, and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York (which sort of strains the whole live thing, but is nearly perfect).
Peter Murphy’s Wild Birds Live Tour does not come near to the perfection of those albums, but it does capture the essence of a complex performer.
The Bauhaus singer’s talent is unmistakable, as are his flaws. Almost every bit of press about the man talks about his erratic ways in dealing with friend and foe alike. But most everybody is willing to admit that Murphy has one of the most unique voices in music and he, like Frank Sinatra or Bryan Ferry, knows absolutely how to use it. This concert was recorded in 2000 during the Wild Birds tour, which summarized his non-Bauhaus greatest hits. The set features a good cross-section of Murphy’s catalog, including “Cuts You Up,” “The Sweetest Drop,” and “Mirror to My Woman’s Mind.” The songs are presented in typical Murphy fashion, with attention to detail, a fine band to back him, and concentration on vocal techniques. (Having seen him a few times over the years, I always enjoy watching how he works the microphone to control the power of his voice.)
There are several high points on the album, including “Subway,” the song that has always stuck in my mind over the years, and here, it does not disappoint. The song—a mash-up of Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” with allusions to West Side Story’s “There’s a Place for Us” and some Bowie lyrics thrown in for effect—is both graceful and heart-wrenching. It frames the grandeur of Murphy’s voice and has the listener hanging on every word. The album also features the beautiful “Surrendered,” which digs deep into Murphy’s time in Turkey.
Murphy, who so often presents himself as a dark Eastern prince, also allows the album to expose his more mere mortal leanings…if only a bit more jovial than manic. Partway through “Indigo Eyes,” the singer’s fingers start to cramp, making the intricate song impossible to continue. He spends the next few minutes talking with the crowd, offering to do a card trick and proving to be funny and inviting. He follows it up with a quite beautiful “Marlene Dietrich’s Favourite Poem,” which perhaps benefited from the respite.
The recording, held for 15 years, proves to be a great example of Peter Murphy’s art and exceptional talent. While not earth-shattering, it is a fine night out. I would encourage you, though, to see the man live as he embarks on an acoustic tour this spring. Murphy’s vocal power, paired with an unmistakable stage presence, is riveting. B | Jim Dunn
Peter Murphy 2016 Spring U.S. Tour Dates
04.01 | The Irenic, San Diego
04.02 | Fremont Theatre, San Luis Obispo
04.03 | Swedish American Hall, San Francisco
04.05 | Aladdin Theater, Portland
04.09 | Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City
04.10 | Gothic Theatre, Denver
04.12 | Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
04.13 | Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee
04.14 | Thalia Hall, Chicago