In the late 1970s Bauhaus' theatrical music dropped punk's angst-ridden vocals and familiar speedy guitar crunch for macabre lyrics and surreal, droning instrumentation. At its best the combination produced densely layered chord structures found on early songs like "Dark Entries," "In the Flat Field," and "Stigmata Martyr." Then again, Bauhaus vomited laughable dribble: "Spy in the Cab," with its repetitive, minimalist guitar riff, and the incredibly stupid horns in "Dancing."
The band changed directions in the second half of its brief four years together, shedding the doom-and-gloom stature and art-rock pretension for better production and a lighter sound, arguably producing their best work. The early '80s singles "Passion of Lovers" and "Spirit" both succeeded through a combination of Ash's sweeping guitar harmonies and Murphy's new vocal range, which he used for soft, heartfelt singing rather than growls.
Sadly, the remnants of their gothic legacy and the denizens who worship at its altar are truly undead. Judging by the huge success of Bauhaus' current Resurrection tour, the band's postmortem popularity far outweighs anything it achieved in the early '80s. This is as much an enigma as the reunion. Devoted fans will surely point to this fact as the motivation for hauling the corpse out of the coffin, but the cynical, noting Peter Murphy's nose-diving solo career as well as Love and Rockets' forgettable last three studio efforts, will reach another conclusion.
-- Robert Arriaga
Bauhaus perform Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18, at 9 p.m. at the Warfield, 982 Market (at Sixth Street). Tickets are $36.50; call 775-7722.